ATLANTA – Martin Luther King Jr. is revered across the USA, as evidenced by the wide variety of celebrations in his honor around the nation Monday.
But King's presence on the grounds of the state Capitol in his native Georgia has always seemed inadequate: a single portrait accompanied by some biographical details.
Gov. Nathan Deal pledged to change that. Speaking from the pulpit of Ebenezer Baptist Church, Deal, a Republican, said, "I'm committed to finding an appropriate way to honor Dr. King on our Capitol grounds."
He got a standing ovation from the capacity crowd gathered at King's former church for the 46th annual commemorative service, this time marking what would have been King's 85th birthday. Deal did not offer specifics. A Democratic state representative, Tyrone Brooks, has introduced legislation for a King statue at the state Capitol.
Deal's remarks came during a nearly four-hour jubilee of speeches and songs that drew some of the state's top political figures: Deal, Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson, Democratic Congressmen John Lewis and Hank Johnson, and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.
King's daughter, Rev. Bernice A. King, who heads the King Center here, told those gathered that the USA is still plagued: by "a school to prison pipeline," by a domestic violence epidemic that will see one in three women suffer gender abuse, by indifference to the environment and by "poverty, racism and materialism."
The keynote speaker, Ebenezer's pastor, Rev. Raphael Warnock, said the state should honor King – but it shouldn't stop there. "I'm glad we're going to honor Dr. King," he said. "Let's build a monument, but the monument ought to inspire us to build a better world…. We've got to say to our governor, expand Medicaid in Georgia and expand Medicaid now!" That was greeted with a thunderous standing ovation.
Civil rights activists and others have been urging Deal to expand Medicaid, thereby extending health care coverage to about 650,000 low-income Georgians. Deal maintains the state can't afford to expand Medicaid – a position taken by 22 other states.
The Atlanta King holiday observance is the oldest and one of the largest, but the holiday was celebrated and observed across the nation:
•In St. Cloud, Minn., hundreds attended an event at St. Cloud State University to discuss how the community needs to work together to ensure equality for all residents. St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis spoke during the event and apologized for the city's past instances of racial discrimination. He said the city celebrates its past accomplishments and must also take responsibility and apologize for past failures.
•In Fort Myers, Fla., about 500 people trekked about two miles from the Dunbar-Jupiter Hammon Public Library to Centennial Park on the 28th annual march to honor King. Performances by community groups and a picnic at the park followed. The event has grown larger and more diverse over the years – which is fitting, said organizer Reginald Billups. "Dr. King was not for black rights," he said. "Dr. King was for human rights."
•About 300 students and faculty from Centenary College of Louisiana in Shreveport joined with citizen volunteers and members of the Shreveport Fire and Police Departments for the sixth annual MLK Service Day. After a brief rally, volunteers were sent to locations across Shreveport. "Dr. King calls us and has painted a beautiful image for us to hold in our heads, he called the beloved community," said David Rowe, president of Centenary College.
•In Asheville, N.C., Lamar Hylton, a board member of the local MLK association, urged listeners to use the same intensity of energy that's used in planning holiday celebrations "to fight for racial, ethnic and socio-economic equality" and to fix a "broken" education system. "We must be careful as a society not to water down his legacy with mere holiday sales and a day off work," he said at St. James A.M.E. Church.
• Bright sunshine and mild temperatures were in store for hundreds of people who turned out for the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom March in Springfield, Mo. David Peery of nearby Pleasant Hope, who has attended for 10 years, was able to get his friend Ray Neely of Springfield to come this year. "He invites me every year, but it's been too cold," Neely said.
•New York state officials announced that a long-lost audio recording of a 1962 speech by King has been unearthed by the New York State Museum. The speech was recorded on Sept. 2, 1962, at the Park-Sheraton Hotel in New York City at a dinner celebrating the 100-year anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. The audio is the only known recording of that address, in which King spoke of the inequality that African Americans still faced in the 1960s.
"This is a remarkable treasure," state Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said in a statement.