ATLANTA » The nation was honoring civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. today — the same day it celebrated the inauguration of the first black president to his second term.
A quirk in the calendar pushed President Barack Obama’s public swearing-in in Washington onto the national holiday honoring the slain civil rights leader.
In Atlanta, an annual commemorative service was held at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King preached. The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference was the keynote speaker, marking the first time a Latino leader served in the role.
Bernice King, the youngest daughter of the slain civil rights leader, also addressed the crowd. She stressed her father’s legacy of peace and nonviolence, describing how he calmed an armed, angry crowd when their home in Montgomery, Ala., was bombed. Her father stood on the porch and urged the crowd to fight not with guns but with Christian love, an act his daughter called “one of the bravest experiences of gun control that we’ve ever heard of in the history of our nation.”
In Washington, several dozen people took turns this morning taking pictures with the statue of King before heading to the National Mall, about a 15-minute walk away.
Nicole Hailey, 34, had driven with her family from Monroe, N.C., a six-hour trip that they started at midnight. Hailey attended Obama’s first inauguration four years ago and was carrying her Metro ticket from that day, a commemorative one with the president’s face printed on it. She said her family made a point of coming to the memorial before staking out a spot for the ceremony.
“It’s Martin Luther King’s special day,” she said. “We’re just celebrating freedom.”
Jon Barton, 61, and his wife Brooke Stephens, 59, of Roanoke, Va., had knocked on doors to get out the vote for Obama. Today they, too, were at the memorial before heading to the mall.
“When you grew up in the ’60s, this means a lot,” Stephens said.
In Memphis, Tenn., some marked the day with a visit to the National Civil Rights Museum, built on the site of the old Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated April 4, 1968.
Wilbur Cole, a 52-year-old postman from Germantown, said the inauguration adds to the recognition of the King holiday, especially in Memphis. King and Obama, he said, “are the great men of this era.”
Joyce Oliver said she came to the museum today to enjoy a slice of history and that the inauguration sheds more light on the King holiday and his legacy.
“This is the dream that Dr. King talked about in his speech,” Oliver said. “We see history in the making. This is the second term for a black president. This is something he spoke about, that all races come together as one.”