KING'S WIDOW AT MEMORIAL SERVICE
Ric Feld  /  AP
Martin Luther King Jr.’s widow, Coretta Scott King, left, and sister, Christine King Farris, were among those attending annual commemorative services Monday in Atlanta.
updated 1/17/2005 6:55:15 PM ET 2005-01-17T23:55:15

Americans paused Monday to remember Martin Luther King Jr., with his son saying that if his father were alive now, he would be reacting to the sobering news from overseas with a message of peace and compassion.

A commemorative service marked the King holiday at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King was preacher from 1960 until his assassination in 1968 at age 39. Thousands of people were expected to take part in an afternoon rally and march through downtown Atlanta.

Martin Luther King III asked the congregation to remember his father’s legacy of peace as America waged war in Iraq and to remember his message of compassion in light of the tsunami disaster.

“Let us respond to this challenge by reaching out to help our sisters and brothers who are suffering because of the tsunami,” he said.

Video: Powell: King lifted up America

In Washington, President Bush attended an event honoring King at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

“In the space of just a few years, through the power of his intellect, the truth of his words and the example of his courage, he left this country a different and better place,” Bush said.

Later, at Georgetown University, Bush presented the John Thompson Legacy of a Dream Award, named for the university’s former men’s basketball coach, to outgoing Secretary of State Colin Powell and his wife, Alma, whom he praised as “among the most admired people in our country.”

Powell, the first black secretary of state, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and national security adviser, said King died waging a second Civil War against injustice.

“Dr. King fought this war, not with weapons, but he fought it with truth. He fought it with honor,” Powell said. “And what he did was not just something that was for black Americans. What Dr. King did that was so profound, that was so fundamental, is what he did for white Americans — what he did for all Americans.”

Kerry and elections
At a King Day breakfast on Boston, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., made some of his strongest comments since Election Day about problems with voting in some states.

While reiterating that he did not contest the presidential election, Kerry said: “I nevertheless make it clear that thousands of people were suppressed in the effort to vote. Voting machines were distributed in uneven ways. In Democratic districts, it took people four, five, 11 hours to vote, while Republicans [went] through in 10 minutes — same voting machines, same process, our America.”

“Martin Luther King reminded us that yes, we have to accept finite disappointment, and I know how to do that,” Kerry said to chuckles from listeners. “But he said we must ... never give up on infinite hope.”

In Atlanta, Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss told the crowd at Ebenezer Baptist Church that the country was better off because of King’s work.

Video: Lawmaker remembers King

“The dream of Dr. King will not be fulfilled until everyone who is uneducated is educated, everyone who is homeless has a roof over their head, and all who hunger become fed,” Chambliss said.

Rep. John Lewis, a Democrat, said King would have opposed the war in Iraq.

“I believe he would be saying today, ‘End the war; end the war in Iraq,’” Lewis said. “‘Bring our young men and our young women home.”’

King, who was born in Atlanta on Jan. 15, 1929, would have turned 76 on Saturday.

Jesse Jackson's tribute
On Sunday, the Rev. Jesse Jackson told a church gathering near Atlanta that war, poverty and social injustice were damaging King’s legacy.

“It’s easy to admire Dr. King,” Jackson told 650 people at Dixon Grove Baptist Church in Jonesboro. “It’s a challenge to follow him.”

Jackson, founder and president of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, was standing beneath the motel balcony where King was fatally shot in Memphis, Tenn., in 1968. He said Monday that a good birthday present would be for Americans to strive more for financial and social equality.

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Video: Bush praises King

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