President Joe Biden took to the Sunday sermon at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr. once delivered many powerful and eloquent sermons in the final years of his life.
Ebenezer Pastor and US Sen. Biden became the first sitting president to preach on the 94th birthday of the slain civil rights leader from the pulpit of a downtown Atlanta church on Sunday, at the invitation of Raphael Warnock. Biden’s speech was about the tough road it takes to achieve the necessary changes, which exemplified King’s fight for equality for black people.
Despite King’s death at age 39, Biden said King’s legacy will live on because he remained optimistic while understanding that progress is never easy. The leader of the civil rights movement preached a powerful sermon and spread a call for nonviolent social change in many cities before his assassination on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee.
On Sunday, Biden reflected on some of the social and racial progress made in recent years, including Ketanji Onika Brown Jackson becoming the first black woman to become a US Supreme Court justice.
The President encouraged people to emulate the King’s qualities as the fight for justice continues.
“It’s always possible that things will get better in our march toward a more perfect union,” Biden said. “But at this point in time, we know there is a lot of work to be done in economic justice, civil rights, voting rights and protecting our democracy. And I remember that our job is to reclaim America’s soul.
On Monday, state and federal offices will be closed for the holiday honoring the king. Several events honoring the civil rights activist were held over the weekend, and more are set for Monday.
Friday, Georgia’s 39th annual Martin Luther King Jr.
The keynote speaker, Georgia Power CEO and President Chris Womack, was joined by former Columbus Democratic Rep. Introduced by Calvin Smyre, he returned to the Gold Dome while awaiting confirmation as US Ambassador to the Bahamas.
Georgia House Speaker John Burns credited Smyre for his role in making King’s birthday a state holiday in 1984, and in 2017 received support for a statue honoring him on the grounds of the Georgia Capitol. The state statute creating the holiday, enacted in 1984, did not mention King by name, a ploy to neutralize opposition. Bills to create a state holiday failed in the Georgia legislature until the US Congress designated the third Monday in January as a federal holiday honoring King the previous year.
Womack, a black man who will become the CEO and president of the state’s largest utility company in 2021, said King’s dream remained unfulfilled even after the Declaration of Independence in 1776, which declared that “all men are created equal.”
As part of Womack’s call to keep King’s legacy alive, Womack said businesses must continue to diversify their workforce and provide basic necessities to those in need.
“We must not accept that state of affairs as reality,” he said. “We must not let that situation go unnoticed.”
“We have to work together with people who are trying to help, whether it’s food kitchens, whether it’s shelters, whether it’s in need of additional housing,” Womack said. “Things like homelessness, we shouldn’t just accept it as a reality. We need to set goals in our community that we’re going to completely eliminate (homelessness).”
Several awards were presented at the Rajyotsava. The Rita Jackson Samuels Founder’s Award went to Forest Park Executive Wanda Okunoren-Meadows; Andrew J. to Albany civil rights leader JT Johnson. Awarded Young Humanitarian Award; Alabama Rev. Rev. Fred Taylor. Joseph E. Lowery Receives Civil Rights Award; and Georgia Sen. Emanuel Jones, Columbus Democrat, won the John Lewis Lifetime Achievement Award.
The King’s granddaughter, Faris Christine Watkins, was also given a King’s Holiday proclamation.
According to a Harris National Poll conducted a year before King’s assassination, 75% of the American public disapproved of him. Supporters of Jim Crow laws in the Deep South, as well as many moderate whites in other parts of the nation, opposed the full integration and equal treatment of black people.
The Georgia Legislative Black Caucus is dedicated to achieving King’s many unfulfilled dreams, including improved access to health care, jobs and education, said Democratic state Sen. Nikki Merritt said Friday.
Republican Gov. Brian Kemp offered prayers for people affected by tornadoes that tore through Georgia earlier in the day at a ceremony Friday. The storm claimed the lives of a five-year-old boy and a transport department employee who was working to clear the road.
Kemp said King’s message of racial equality and moral responsibility still resonates today, as King faced hate and prejudice and threats against his family.
Kemp said he sees Georgia’s racial progress living in the legacy of a civil rights leader who faced and overcame many obstacles.
“Each year we mark this occasion, not only to remember Dr. King or his wisdom, to celebrate his contribution to our state and nation, but also to remember his mission, his actions and his inspiring message,” Kemp said. “To remember a man is to consider the man and how we each build on his timeless legacy in our own unique way.”