On an usually cold morning in Atlanta on Monday, thousands escaped the freezing temperatures and entered Ebenezer Baptist Church.
It’s the place where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was once a pastor.
More than 50 years after his death, the pews were packed inside Dr. King’s church. The high ceilings filled with the sound of children reciting his letter from the Birmingham jail. A young boy sang “A Change Is Gonna Come.”
Dr. Bernice King was a child herself when her father was assassinated in 1968.
“Since the inception of the national holiday in honor of my father, there has been a day on and not a day off,” King said.
But she says one day a year is not enough.
“A ‘day on,’ which reflects service as the primary method to commemorate MLK Day, became embedded in the psyches of millions of people. Unfortunately, this has caused many to neglect the necessity to change the systems that create injustices and instigate these critical needs.”
The Rev. Howard John Wesley, a pastor from Alexandria, Virginia, says we have nearly daily reminders of Martin Luther King.
“There’s a street in every urban city that reminds us of who he is. Our challenge is not to remember Dr. King. Our challenge is that we’re often prone to mis-remembering Dr. King.”
Wesley said King should be remembered for calling out America when it didn’t live up to its founding principles.
New U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler of Georgia followed in the tradition of her predecessor, Johnny Isakson, by taking part in Monday’s service.
“I grew up on a family farm in a rural town far away from downtown Atlanta,” Loeffler said. “But Dr. King’s story, his leadership, his words and actions had a profound effect on my life and on my values.”
Ebenezer Baptist Church’s pastor, the Rev. Raphael Warnock, called King “the greatest American who ever lived,” a “prophet who was the walking embodiment of the Jeffersonian ideal of all men being created equal.”
Which is why, he says, it’s fitting that the monument to King in Washington, D.C., is where it is in relation to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial.
“On the other side of the title basin stands a towering descendant of slaves standing there facing Jefferson with his arms folded,” Warnock said. “As if to say to Jefferson, ‘Did you mean what you said when you said what you said?’”
Warnock says his church welcomes in everyone on this day to celebrate King’s legacy.
“But if today you would stand in this holy place where Dr. King stood, make sure that come tomorrow, we’ll find you standing where Dr. King stood,” he added.