Speeches by a poet in Kennesaw and a Georgia Supreme Court Justice in Sandy Springs and parades in Stone Mountain and in the namesake's Auburn Avenue neighborhood were among the ways the2012 Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday was observed in metro Atlanta Monday.
Poet Nikki Giovanni headlined the celebration at Kennesaw State University's annual MLK event while justice Harold D. Melton gave the keynote address at Sandy Springs' City Hall. Volunteers worked on a variety of community service projects sponsored by Hands on Atlanta as residents turned out in a variety of ways to commemorate the holiday.
As great as the music, speeches and spirit were Monday morning at Ebenezer Baptist Church for the 2012 Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Observance, there was a also a great sense of symmetry.
In the 44th year after King’s death, speaker after speaker – most of whom lean Democrat -- stumped for four more years for the country’s 44th president, Barack Obama.
“For the first time in the history of America, the most important person of color does not throw a ball, catch a ball, act, sing or dance,” said Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, encouraging the audience to go out and register to vote. “When we leave here today, lets do our work, lets develop a plan, and lets not get tired. And we will indeed, change the world.”
Some 11 months away from what promises to be a tough re-election bid for Obama, who is facing sharp attacks from the right and growing concerns from the left, speakers on Monday focused on re-energizing the base.
The speakers reminded the crowd – the overflow of which listened to the service at the original church that King co-pastored for eight years – to not get complacent now that Obama is in the White House. They said it is time to stop just living on the legacy of King’s Dream, which has lulled so many and taken the focus off of his accomplishments.
“You don’t get killed for dreaming. You don’t get harassed by the FBI for dreaming,” said keynote speaker The Rev. Frederick D. Haynes III from Friendship -- West Baptist Church in Dallas. “What made him dangerous is that Dr. King fought until public policy was changed. He agitated. Don’t say you in love with Dr. King if you stick with his dream and don’t wake up and push for public policy. Dr. King fought to change public policy.”
More than 2,000 attended the annual service, held in Ebenezer Baptist Church’s Horizon Sanctuary. Included among the speakers were Gov. Nathan Deal, and fellow Republican Senator Johnny Isakson.
Isackson called the King Memorial, which he has visited three times, "a beautiful tribute to a great man." He said the monument's placement between the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials is apporpriate because Kings words also shaped this country.
Deal told the audience to follow Kings example of service to others to address the work he left behind. "Too many live in a dark word of illiteracy, addiciton, poverty and crime, Deal said.
King’s sister Christine King Farris and daughter, Bernice King, presided over the three-hour event.
King, who won the Nobel Peace Prize and is first United States citizen to have a national holiday in his name, would have been 83 this year. He was born and raised in Atlanta, and many of the King Day events are centered in the King Historic District in the Auburn Avenue area.
Outside of the churches, as hundreds milled around waiting for a march to start, vendors sold t-shirts, King/Obama scrolls and plump turkey legs. Dozens of volunteers, organized by the People’s Agenda, registered people to vote, even providing access to photo ID voter identification.
“This was very inspirational. Very motivational,” said Ron Carson, who brought eight youth from a church in Dublin, Ga. “Anyone who listened to what was said today had to be inspired to want to continue the legacy of the dream. It was hard to overlook that.”