About 1,000 people on the National Mall joined thousands of others across the country Wednesday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and reflect on the civil rights leader’s life and legacy.
D.C. religious leaders led a sizable crowd early Wednesday in a silent march from the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in West Potomac Park to the center of the Mall, where they held a rally to end racism.
Organized by the National Council of Churches, the rally gathered leaders from various faiths to speak about ending systemic racism, beginning in houses of worship.
“The Jewish community has been marching for 5,000 years to overcome the bigotry and hatred of Pharaoh, and we marched 5,000 years later in the civil rights era with Dr. King as we were allies then, and we’ll keep marching for 5,000 more years if that’s what it takes to end bigotry, racism and hate,” Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, told The Washington Times.
“To be here on this occasion is epic for me,” said Alice Davis, 60, a United Methodist from North Carolina whose bishop, Hope Morgan Ward, arranged for a bus to drive her congregation to the District for the rally.
Velda Love of the United Church of Christ watched the speeches wearing her rainbow stole with two Black Lives Matter buttons. As her church’s minister spoke of racial justice, she said she writes curricula for teaching churches how to lead discussions on racism in their communities. She told The Times that politics is an integral part of worship.
“The Bible is a political book. Jesus was hung by the Roman Empire, that is a political statement — that there was this man who threatened the state,” said Ms. Love. “So not to engage the Bible and faith in politics is an absence of the intersection of one’s life. If you just want to be saved and not embrace the very radical justice movement that Jesus began, then you are really not engaging the whole Gospel.”
At the rally, D.C. Council member Anita Bonds, at-large Democrat, offered a proclamation to the National Council of Churches for organizing the King commemoration.
“Today I am proud to stand with the National Council of Churches alongside their partners and many of you to continue this important work,” Ms. Bonds said.
The National Council of Churches is a partnership of 38 church communities, including historic African-American, Protestant, Franciscan, Anglican and Orthodox, according to the organization’s website.
Meanwhile in King’s hometown of Atlanta, the Rev. Bernice A. King recalled her father as a civil rights leader and great orator whose message of peaceful protest was still vital decades later.
“We decided to start this day remembering the apostle of nonviolence,” Ms. King said during a ceremony to award the Martin Luther King Jr. Nonviolent Peace Prize held at the King Center.
In Memphis, Tennessee, where King died, police estimated that 10,000 people showed up for an early afternoon march led by the same sanitation workers union whose low pay King had come to protest when he was shot.
On April 4, 1968, James Earl Ray opened fire with a rifle and gunned down King on the balcony of the old Lorraine Motel in Memphis. The civil rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize recipient was 39 years old.
President Trump issued a proclamation in honor of the anniversary, saying: “In remembrance of his profound and inspirational virtues, we look to do as Dr. King did while this world was privileged enough to still have him.”
In New York, the Dance Theatre of Harlem, founded months after King’s slaying, planned an evening performance in his honor. Community organizers scheduled a march and commemorative program marking the anniversary in Yakima, Washington.
In Montgomery, Alabama, where King first gained notice leading a boycott against segregated city buses, came a symbol of transformation: The daughter of King’s one-time nemesis, segregationist Gov. George C. Wallace, planned to participate in a program honoring the slain civil rights leader.
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.