The Country Remembers Dr. King

The third Monday in January marked the 90th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birth. Dr. King was a humanitarian and leader within the North American Civil Rights Movement, and activists today continue to draw on his example and message. Across the nation, citizens commemorated his achievements and reflected on how to continue Dr. King’s work.

Late Monday morning on January 21, President Donald Trump, accompanied by Vice President Mike Pence, visited the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. President Trump had faced criticism when a schedule released prior to the visit did not include any public events marking MLK Day. In response, President Trump and Vice President Pence altered the schedule to include the memorial visit, where they honored Dr. King by placing a wreath at the base of his sculpture. Nevertheless, many still criticized the president for not mentioning Dr. King in his brief remarks to reporters, in which he said, “Good morning, everybody. It’s a great day. A beautiful day. Thank you for being here. Appreciate it.”

In Dr. King’s birthplace of Atlanta, Georgia, the Ebenezer Baptist Church hosted its annual commemorative service with remarks by his daughter, Dr. Bernice King. She criticized incidents in which she believed the Trump administration had misused her father’s words. She also spoke about comments by Vice President Mike Pence, who quoted Dr. King on CBS’s “Face the Nation” in support of the border wall initiative.  She stated, “If we really want to make real the promises of democracy, now is the time…to stop quoting King out of context and misquoting him to suit our own purposes.” 

Bernice King also encouraged the audience to act on current-day problems, including the ongoing government shutdown, voter suppression, and the resurgence of white supremacist ideologies. In addition to volunteering as part of the MLK Day of Service, Atlantans participated in parades and walked with the MLK March downtown.

In the streets of Phoenix, Arizona, thousands gathered to honor Dr. King’s legacy. The day began at 9 a.m. with a prayer near Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church. As the crowd processed through the city, the group of hundreds transformed into thousands. Dr. King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech was played from a golf cart, backed by cheers and applause from the marching masses. Among the sea of people, one who held a sign reading, “Old white men against bigotry,” was Barry Smith, a retired school teacher. Smith said, “It just feels so good. There are all these wonderful people, and they all see the same thing I see: that our country is going the wrong way, and we’re getting together, and it’s a good vibe.”

At the site of Dr. King’s assassination in Memphis, Tennessee, the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel celebrated and honored Dr. King’s work. “Activities included day-long performances, youth-centered ‘edutainment,’ a health pavilion, and the National Civil Rights Museum experience,” the museum announced. Although Dr. King’s assassination occurred nearly 51 years ago, Martin Luther King Day events throughout the country revealed the activist’s lasting impact on the U.S.