Citizens, and elected officials across the country, gathered to celebrate the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in different ways Jan. 18.
In South Carolina, civil rights leaders gathered at the statehouse to honor King for the first time in 17 years, without the Confederate flag hanging ominously in the background.
Republican Gov. Nikki Haley decided to remove the flag in July, after Dylan Roof, a white gunman, killed nine African-American churchgoers in a historical Charleston church.
According to South Carolina NAACP President Lonnie Randolph, the state’s removal of the flag was proof the citizens of this country can affect change when its elected officials have been sufficiently pushed to do so.
“I promise you, the people that gather in this building, your building, will do something this year to cause us to return to ensure freedom, justice, and equality is made possible for all people,” Randolph stated.
Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O’Malley also made an appearance in South Carolina, in order to commemorate the holiday.
“We couldn’t celebrate him, and the Confederacy,” Clinton stated. “We had to choose. And South Carolina made the right choice.”
Groups of hundreds and thousands of people also gathered elsewhere across the nation, to celebrate the holiday in honor of King’s memory.
A large crowd gathered at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta to celebrate its former pastor, in an event that ended a week-long celebration of events held in King’s memory.
King’s daughter, the Rev. Dr. Bernice King, also spoke at the event, and used the opportunity draw attention to issues which she said have been replaced by distractions such as reality TV shows, and prime-time television.
“While we’ve been distracted, new voting rights restrictions have been created,” King stated.
“If you’re not careful, we’re about to allow a reality show host to bully himself into becoming president of the United States of America,” she said.
U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro also spoke at the event, and related King’s experience in Chicago half a century ago, to today’s fair housing crisis.
“Dr. King knew that housing was more than about just bricks and mortar,” Castro stated. “He knew that, if you tell me where a family lives, I’ll tell you what jobs are available to them; where their children go to school; the quality of the air they breathe. The walls of segregation left many Americans stuck without a chance to get ahead in life; not just in the South, but everywhere, including in our cities.”
Castro said King’s spirit lives on, and it’s important for people to keep fighting for both justice and progress.
In Washington D.C., President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama planted vegetable seeds at a local elementary school, in keeping with the theme of community service, to honor the civil rights leader.
They also packed bags with books, along with Americorps volunteers and youth from a White House mentoring program, to give to children in need.
The Obamas said they chose the community service event to correspond with the first lady’s anti-childhood obesity initiative.
In New York, the Rev. Al Sharpton held his annual King Day Public Policy Forum at the National Action Network’s Harlem headquarters, which several elected officials attended, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, and U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer.
“When Dr. King died, he was fighting economic injustice in Memphis, Tenn.,” Schumer stated. “He was fighting for the minimum wage, and he was fighting so people could organize a union. And, both of those are under attack today. I believe we should have a minimum wage of $15 an hour everywhere in America.”
“I am proud to fight for it,” Cuomo stated. “Let New York lead the way.”
Cuomo’s office also released the following statement regarding the holiday:
“Today we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Above all else, Dr. King’s crusade was about justice – racial justice, economic justice, social justice. He was fighting for the very soul of our democracy, which was not living up to its promise of equality for all. The truth is that crusade for justice is not over; instead it is an ongoing struggle, and there is much more that we have yet to accomplish.”
“Today we are fighting to continue that legacy, and create a better future for our children. From raising the minimum wage, and offering paid family leave, to proposing the nation’s most comprehensive package of criminal justice and re-entry reforms, we are showing the country that there is more we must do, and in New York we will lead the way.”
Activists also reportedly held marches in Minneapolis and California, in support of police non-violence, and the Black Lives Matter movement.