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Atlanta Church Commemorates Its Former Pastor, The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

It was an unusually cold morning in Atlanta today, where thousands escaped the freezing temperatures at Ebenezer Baptist Church. It's the place where the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and his father before him were pastors. From member station WABE in Atlanta, Emil Moffatt reports.

EMIL MOFFATT, BYLINE: More than 50 years after his death, the pews were packed inside Dr. King's church. The high ceilings filled with the sound of a young boy singing "A Change Is Gonna Come."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Singing) Oh, just like the river, I've been running ever since.

MOFFATT: Dr. Bernice King was a child herself when her father was assassinated in 1968.

BERNICE KING: Since the inception of the national holiday in honor of my father, there's been a keen focus on it being a day on and not a day off.

MOFFATT: But she says one day a year is not enough.

KING: A day on which reflects service as the primary method to commemorate MLK Day became embedded in the psyches of millions of people. Unfortunately, this has caused many to neglect the necessity to change the systems that create injustices and instigate these critical needs.

MOFFATT: The Reverend Howard-John Wesley, a pastor from Alexandria, Va., says we have nearly daily reminders of Dr. King.

HOWARD-JOHN WESLEY: There's a street in every urban city that reminds us of who he is. Our challenge is not to remember Dr. King. Our challenge is that we are prone to misremembering Dr. King.

MOFFATT: Wesley said King should be remembered for calling out America when it didn't live up to its founding principles. Ebenezer Baptist Church Pastor Raphael Warnock called King the greatest American who ever lived, a prophet who was the walking embodiment of the Jeffersonian ideal of all men being created equal, which is why, he says, it's fitting that the monument to Dr. King in Washington, D.C., is where it is in relation to the Jefferson Memorial.

RAPHAEL WARNOCK: On the other side of the Tidal Basin stands a towering descendant of slaves standing there, facing Jefferson with his arms folded, as if to say to Jefferson, did you mean what you said when you said what you said?

MOFFATT: Pastor Warnock says his church welcomes in everyone this day to celebrate the legacy of Dr. King.

WARNOCK: But if today you would stand in this holy place where Dr. King stood, make sure that come tomorrow, we'll find you standing where Dr. King stood.

MOFFATT: He and others echoed the words of Dr. King, saying, tomorrow is today. They added that we're a country still confronted with the fierce urgency of now.

For NPR News, I'm Emil Moffatt in Atlanta. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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