King remembered for civil rights achievements
ATLANTA (CNN) -- In his hometown church where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once preached love, equality and nonviolence, he was hailed on Monday as a man who "paid the ultimate price" so that others could be free.
King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, three decades ago.
An ecumenical service held at Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church honored King on a national holiday that celebrates him and his teachings.
Speakers including the Rev. Bernice King, a daughter of the slain civil rights leader and herself a Baptist minister in Atlanta, told the audience that there is still a long way to go to achieve King's dream.
"We are still in the backwater of yesterday," said the Rev. Joseph Roberts, current pastor of Ebenezer Baptist. "The jury is still out on American apartheid, even in the state of Georgia."
In his keynote speech, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa praised King's push for social change as he recalled his own country's successful struggle to overcome white minority rule known as apartheid.
"It is a very great privilege to be able to come on behalf of millions to say, 'We want to give a special birthday present to Martin Luther King Jr.,' (and) to say, 'You inspired us and our gift to you is our freedom,'" said Tutu, a former winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Tutu also gave thanks to all American civil rights leaders, who through their actions helped his own people, 10,000 miles away.
"We drew enormous courage from your history," Tutu explained. "That you emerged from the furnace of affliction, the furnace of injustice, the furnace of oppression of slavery, emerged as strong as you have been."
King himself was a Nobel laureate. Another Peace Prize honoree, John Hume, said King's philosophy of nonviolence and social justice was central to a peace agreement that is working to bring to a close decades of religious intolerance in Northern Ireland.
"We did not seek ideological confrontation," said Hume, leader of Northern Ireland's Social Democratic and Labor Party.
"We believed in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King. We believed in inclusivity, not exclusivity. We believed that true unity among all Irish people was unity of the heart, not unity of the soil," said Hume, a co-winner of the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize.
King's widow, Coretta, praised Hume's efforts Monday as she presented him with the 1999 Martin Luther King Jr. Nonviolent Peace Prize.
"Like Dr. King, he has demonstrated the power of one person that provided a spark of leadership that provided a way out of no way," she said from the pulpit where her husband preached before he was killed in 1968.
U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Georgia) said no man in modern times has done more to lift the dignity of the common man than King.
"We have come here today ... black, white, young, old -- people from all walks of life -- to say to the world that we love the life and we revere the life of Martin Luther King Jr. And we thank God that he passed this way," Bishop told the Ebenezer audience, which included numerous political, religious and business leaders.
"He demonstrated that nonviolence is a way to effect change," Bishop said. "He lived under constant threat of harassment ... and he paid the ultimate price -- death -- so that we may have life and have it more abundantly."
Tutu said America still had lingering racial wounds to heal from slavery and the Civil War.
"God has a dream like Martin Luther King Jr.," Tutu said. "That this community, the wonderful people in this land, will come to realize to say, 'Hey, we are really members of one family.'
"Then, just maybe, this great country will be able to say truly, 'Free at last, thank God almighty, we're free at last.'"
"Part of our mission is to finish unfinished business," the Rev. Jesse Jackson said Monday of King's unfulfilled dream.
Jackson's Rainbow PUSH Coalition sponsored a breakfast in Chicago that was attended by hundreds of community leaders, including Mayor Richard Daley and Illinois Gov. George Ryan.
In Montgomery, Alabama, King's son, Martin Luther King III, joined Gov.-elect Don Siegelman for a service at another church where his father once preached, Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church.
Siegelman, who takes office Monday, pledged to carry on the kind of change in Alabama that the slain civil rights leader envisioned. "What happened in this small sanctuary, what happened in these streets outside, changed this nation," he said.
Elsewhere in the country, the King birthday observance was marked with prayer breakfasts, speeches, parades and acts of volunteerism.
In Washington, President Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and Mayor Anthony Williams worked at a senior citizens retirement home.
The presidential team descended on Regency House, a senior citizens' apartment complex in Washington, with crowbars and hammers in hand to knock down a wall for a health clinic
The president, dressed in blue jeans, noted the words to one of King's favorite hymns -- "If I can help somebody ... Then my living will not be in vain" --- and Clinton said all Americans should heed the call to serve others.
Gore announced the Clinton administration will request a 15 percent increase in federal spending on civil rights enforcement. The administration is seeking an additional $84 million this year, to bring the total to $663 million.
"These funds will help ensure that no American is denied a job, a home, or an education because of their race, color, creed, gender, or religion. And instead we will help ensure equal opportunity for all Americans," Gore said.
The King birthday holiday -- observed by the federal government and almost all states -- falls on the third Monday in January.
New Hampshire is the only state that does not recognize the holiday, although legislation is pending to change the state's Civil Rights Day to a holiday specifically recognizing King.
In Columbia, South Carolina, Gov. Jim Hodges said Monday he wants to make King Day a permanent state holiday.
"There is strong support for making Martin Luther King Day a state holiday," Hodges, newly sworn in as the first Democratic governor in 12 years, said at a breakfast honoring the slain civil rights leader.
"I can assure you support of my administration to try to bring that dream into reality," said Hodges, who won election in November with strong black support.
State law in South Carolina currently allows employees to take the day off as their one optional holiday.
A bill calling for the day as a required state holiday passed the Democratic-controlled South Carolina Senate last year, but failed in the Republican-controlled House.
Federal offices and most state and local governments are closed for the birthday holiday observance. There is no mail delivery, and U.S. stock markets are closed.
King, who was born on January 15, 1929, would have been 70 this year.
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