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50 Years After His Assassination, Remembering Martin Luther King Jr. In Atlanta


Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and across the country, there were celebrations to honor the civil rights leader. This year, a theme emerged at some of the events - response to President Trump's alleged vulgar comments last week about Africa and Haiti. Trump has denied making those comments. Still, speakers at King's church in Atlanta pushed back. Molly Samuel of member station WABE went to the service at Ebenezer Baptist Church this morning.


MOLLY SAMUEL, BYLINE: This service at Ebenezer is always a big event. Atlanta's elite attend - college presidents, CEOs, politicians from both parties. Civil rights leader and Congressman John Lewis who represents Atlanta and has sparred with President Trump received a standing ovation. In recent years, the service has also included pointed commentary on politics. This year wasn't any different. Reverend Raphael Warnock is the senior pastor. In his remarks this morning, he said he watched on TV last week as Trump signed a proclamation in honor of Martin Luther King. He said it left him shaking his head.


RAPHAEL WARNOCK: I was still reeling in the reports just hours earlier about a volcanic eruption of hate speech spewing out of the mouth of the same man.

SAMUEL: Warnock called on the president to repent.


WARNOCK: A proclamation without an apology is hypocrisy.


SAMUEL: One politician in attendance - Ben Carson, Trump's secretary of Housing and Urban Development. When he addressed the congregation, he didn't specifically talk about the comments from last week. What he did say...


BEN CARSON: I'm a member of this administration, and I don't agree with the president about everything that he says...


CARSON: ...Or of how it's said.

SAMUEL: Other speakers called out the Trump administration's policies.


BREE NEWSOME: Things like rolling back civil rights protections at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

SAMUEL: Activist Bree Newsome was arrested in 2015 after she took down the Confederate flag at the South Carolina State Capitol. Today she said that too many people cite King's words and commitment to nonviolence, but then they do things counter to what she says King would have fought for. At the end, King's daughter, Reverend Bernice King, gave a speech emphasizing love, unity and faith.


BERNICE KING: If we further polarize, if we further divide, I'm afraid it's going to lead to our own destruction.

SAMUEL: The King Center is kicking off 50 days of activism and charity in honor of this year being the 50th anniversary of King's death. He was assassinated on April 4, 1968. For NPR News, I'm Molly Samuel in Atlanta.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Molly Samuel
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