For many Americans, the day was a reminder of how far the country has come since King made his “I Have a Dream” speech nearly 50 years ago, on Aug. 28, 1963 in Washington, D.C.
Denise Parham, co-chair of the 2013 Carroll County NAACP King Day Parade, said local NAACP leaders decided to combine the traditional parade with a celebration of February as Black History Month. The parade is now scheduled for 11 a.m., Feb. 9, in downtown Carrollton.
“We moved the parade date because a lot of people wanted to be involved in the inauguration,” she said.
Parham said 52 Carroll County NAACP members left Sunday by chartered bus to attend Monday’s inauguration ceremonies in Washington. They are due back in Carrollton today.
“I’ve been watching the inauguration today on T,V and it’s very exciting to see,” Parham said Monday. “We’ve come a long way, through the grace of God, but we still have a long way to go.”
Parham said she was 8 years old when King made his famous speech, and she has lived a lot of the dream about which he spoke.
“I’ve seen a lot in the past and a lot of improvement,” she said. “There’s a lot of good people in the world, but many still have issues with racism.”
Parham said she believes it’s “something planned long ago” and we’re able to live a portion of it today.
“That shows how God is working and how his hand is working in everything,” she said.
In Atlanta, at the 45th annual service for the civil rights leader at the church where he was pastor, those gathered in the sanctuary were invited to stay to watch President Barack Obama’s second inauguration on a big-screen TV.
As the nearly three-hour service came to a close at Ebenezer Baptist Church, organizers suggested forgoing the traditional singing of “We Shall Overcome” because the inauguration was about to begin. But the crowd shouted protests, so the choir and congregation sang the civil rights anthem before settling in to watch the events in Washington.
At the Atlanta service, King’s youngest daughter, Bernice King, said the country had been through a difficult year, with divisive elections, military conflicts and natural disasters.
“We pray that this day will be the beginning of a new day in America,” she said. “It will be a day when people draw inspiration from the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. It will be a day when people realize and recognize that if it were not for Dr. King and those who fought the fight in that movement, we would not be celebrating this presidency.”
She also stressed her father’s commitment to nonviolence, saying that after the 1956 bombing of the family’s home in Montgomery, Ala., her father stood on the porch and urged an angry, armed crowd to fight not with guns but with Christian love.
“This apostle of nonviolence perhaps introduced one of the bravest experiences of gun control that we’ve ever heard of in the history of our nation,” she said.
The service also kicked off a year of celebrations of the 50th anniversary of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. A group of students, led by King’s great-niece Farris Christine Watkins, delivered sections of the speech in turn.
By the end, the crowd was on its feet, shouting, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
The keynote speaker was the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, a socially conservative evangelical association. It marked the first time a Latino had been invited to deliver the King Day address at Ebenezer Baptist.
He urged the audience to work to fulfill King’s dream.
“Silence is not an option when 30 million of our brothers and sisters live in poverty,” he said. “Silence is not an option when 11 million undocumented individuals continue to live in the shadows.”
King was born on Jan. 15, 1929, in Atlanta. In 1948, he followed the footsteps of his father into the ministry. He was ordained at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta and began his service at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., in 1954. He was instrumental in the Montgomery bus boycott, made famous by the nonviolent resistence and arrest of Rosa Parks. He returned to Atlanta in 1959 to direct the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
King led the March on Washington in 1963, where he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. He received the Nobel Peace Prize on Oct. 14, 1964, for his efforts in combating racial inequality through nonviolence.
King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tenn. He was 39 years old. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2004. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established as a federal holiday in 1986. A memorial statue to King was opened to the public in Washington, D.C., in 2011.
– The Associated Press contributed to this article.