John Bazemore  /  AP
Christine King Farris, the sister of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., prays with Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., during a church service in Atlanta to mark the anniversary of the civil rights leader's birthday on Monday.
updated 1/15/2007 3:10:46 PM ET 2007-01-15T20:10:46

From the pulpit of the church where Martin Luther King Jr. once was pastor, Atlanta’s mayor reminded the congregation Monday that his work for peace and justice remains unfinished.

Mayor Shirley Franklin admonished congregants at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church not to pay tribute to King’s dream on his birthday, observed as a national holiday Monday, and then contradict it the next.

“Millions can’t find jobs, have no health insurance and struggle to make ends meet, working minimum wage jobs. What’s going on?” she said, repeating a refrain from soul singer Marvin Gaye.

“Thousands of black and Latino students drop out of high school believing education will not matter and statistics say it doesn’t because they can’t find jobs. ... What’s going on?”

Earlier in the service, Georgia’s newly elected congressman, Rep. Hank Johnson, paid tribute to King’s children and their late mother, Coretta Scott King, who died nearly a year ago.

“On this day we honor their sacrifice and commitment, and we must carry on their work,” said Johnson, a Democrat. “Today as we salute Dr. King, we also lift up the life and work of Mrs. King who left us last year.”

Many attending the service had earlier walked past the Kings' tombs to get to the church, among them 73-year-old Laura Brown, who said memories of her civil rights past rushed back as she bowed in respect.

She remembered how King and his volunteers taught her the meaning of nonviolent protest. How she learned to withstand taunts and insults. How she gained the strength to stare down the racists who spit in her face. How she built the courage to integrate restaurants and grocery stores, bathrooms and diners.

And how she became an “adopted sister” of Coretta’s who still grieves for the civil rights matriarch.

“She was right here in my heart,” Brown said, clutching her chest. “I’m just right now beginning to absorb it, because her spirit is here.”

Bush: Give back
President Bush, in an unannounced stop at a high school near the White House, said people should honor King on the holiday by finding ways to give back to their communities. Classes were not in session but volunteers were sprucing up the school.

“I encourage people all around the country to seize any opportunity they can to help somebody in need,” Bush said. “And by helping somebody in need you’re honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King.”

In a ceremony Sunday at Ebenezer Baptist Church, King’s eldest daughter evoked the civil rights movement while reminding those remembering her parents that America has not yet reached the promised land of peace and racial equality.

“We must keep reaching across the table and, in the tradition of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, feed each other,” Yolanda King said Sunday during a presentation that was part motivational speech, part drama.

Gene Blythe  /  AP
Laura Brown, right, leads a group past the tombs of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and Coretta Scott King on Monday in Atlanta as they walk to the Ebenezer Baptist Church for King Day commemorative services.
Yolanda King, 51, told The Associated Press the holiday provides an opportunity for everyone to live her father’s dream, and that she has her mother’s example to follow.

“I connected with her spirit so strongly,” she said when asked how she is coping with her mother’s loss. “I am in direct contact with her spirit, and that has given me so much peace and so much strength.”

The stage and television actress performed a series of scenes that told stories including a girl’s first ride on a desegregated bus and a college student’s recollection of the 1963 desegregation of Birmingham, Ala.

After the performance — attended by members of the extended family and Yolanda’s sister, the Rev. Bernice King — Yolanda King and her aunt, Christine King Farris, signed copies of their books, and Bernice King posed for photographs with attendees.

Other events
Several hundred people gathered Monday morning in West Columbia, S.C., for a breakfast prayer service honoring King.

The Rev. Brenda Kneece, executive minister of the South Carolina Christian Action Council, said King set the standard for sacrifice and vision.

“The vision became even more powerful because he understood the risks he was taking,” Kneece said. “It’s very important for our children to know that his sacrifice didn’t win the war. We still have to keep at it.”

A management refusal to grant the King holiday as a paid day off led to a job action Monday at a huge Smithfield Foods Inc. hog slaughtering plant at Tar Heel, N.C.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union estimated that 400 of the 2,500 people scheduled to work at the Smithfield plant walked out or didn’t show up for work Monday. The union and the workers asked Smithfield last week to grant Monday as a paid holiday, but the company said the request came too late for a change of work plans.

Rallies in New York
In New York, rallies, speeches and volunteer efforts were to mark the King holiday, some invoking the Iraq War, the conflict in Sudan and local tensions surrounding the fatal police shooting of a black groom.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Gov. Eliot Spitzer were expected to attend a forum, joining Nicole Paultre-Bell, whose fiancee was killed by police in a barrage of 50 bullets in November.

The Rev. Herbert Daughtry, the national minister of the House of the Lord Churches, said he would lead an act of civil disobedience outside the Sudan Mission in New York.

New Yorkers also planned to volunteer on the holiday in a spirit of service, such as knitting blankets for babies born to mothers with HIV/AIDS, painting murals, building homes, revitalizing their community and making fleece scarves for the homeless.

He'd have been 78
This year’s holiday comes on the day King would have turned 78. King was assassinated while standing on the balcony of a hotel in Memphis, Tenn., on April 4, 1968. His confessed killer, James Earl Ray, was arrested two months later in London.

Coretta Scott King died last year on Jan. 31 at age 78. An activist in her own right, she also fought to shape and preserve her husband’s legacy after his death.

Shortly after his death, she founded what would become the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. For years, she worked to establish Jan. 15 as a federal holiday, which became a reality in 1986.

“When you see the commitment my parents exhibited ... it was not for fame or fortune,” Yolanda King said. “The best sermons are those that are lived.”

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Bush: Give back


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