Celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.

The nation paused today to mark the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The minister and civil rights leader would have been 77 Sunday. And on this holiday Monday, there were speeches, performances and volunteer projects in King's memory. Melissa Block has some notes on the day.

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(Soundbite of 1968 speech)

Dr. MARTIN LUTHER KING Jr. (Civil Rights Leader): I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

It has been nearly 38 years since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave that speech in Memphis, laying out a vision for an America no longer divided by race. It was April 3rd, 1968. His caveat, `I may not get there with you' acknowledged the promised land was a long way off. The next day, on April 4th, he was shot and killed. Dr. King would have been 77 years old yesterday.

Commemorations on this Martin Luther King Day holiday included performances and speeches. In effect, many asked this question: Have we reached the land Dr. King envisioned? In Chicago the Reverend Jesse Jackson pointed to ongoing disparities between white and black Americans in life expectancy and access to education. Jackson said African-Americans are free but not equal and he called on people to fight the fight of change.

And there were other calls for action. At Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where Dr. King once led the congregation, Mayor Shirley Franklin spoke of a need to comprehend the full message of Dr. King.

Mayor SHIRLEY FRANKLIN (Atlanta, Georgia): Every day make a personal commitment to help the young, the old and the poor. Commit to educate a child outside of your own. Employ a homeless man or woman. Sponsor a homeless family.

BLOCK: Mayor Franklin also pressed for more aid for those affected by last year's hurricanes, disasters that many said revealed racial disparities.

In Philadelphia there was action as volunteers turned out to work on hundreds of projects in a day of service. One project, building a house for a family left homeless by Hurricane Katrina.

(Soundbite of "We Shall Overcome")

Unidentified Group: (Singing) We shall overcome. We shall overcome.

BLOCK: In Washington President Bush attended the Let Freedom Ring celebration at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Earlier in the day he went to view the original Emancipation Proclamation, Abraham Lincoln's order freeing the slaves. It's on display this week at the National Archives.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Abraham Lincoln recognized that all men are created equal. Martin Luther King lived on that admonition to call our country to a higher calling.

BLOCK: The president said King called Americans to account when we didn't live up to our ideals.

(Soundbite of King speech)

Dr. KING: I have a dream, that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: `We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'

BLOCK: For January 16th, 2006, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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