On King’s holiday, daughter calls for bold action over words

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By Bill Barrow, Associated Press

A crowd at the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial
A large group gathers to watch a wreath-laying ceremony at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Washington, Monday, Jan. 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

America has honored Martin Luther King Jr. with a federal holiday for nearly four decades yet still hasn’t fully embraced and acted on the lessons from the slain civil rights leader, his youngest daughter said Monday.

The Rev. Bernice King, who leads The King Center in Atlanta, said leaders — especially politicians — too often cheapen her father’s legacy into a “comfortable and convenient King” offering easy platitudes.

“We love to quote King in and around the holiday. … But then we refuse to live King 365 days of the year,” she declared at the commemorative service at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where her father once preached.

The service, organized by the center and held at Ebenezer annually, headlined observances of the 38th federal King holiday. King, gunned down in Memphis in 1968 as he advocated for better pay and working conditions for the city’s sanitation workers, would have celebrated his 94th birthday Sunday.

Her voice rising and falling in cadences similar to her father’s, Bernice King bemoaned institutional and individual racism, economic and health care inequities, police violence, a militarized international order, hardline immigration structures and the climate crisis. She said she’s “exhausted, exasperated and, frankly, disappointed” to hear her father’s words about justice quoted so extensively alongside “so little progress” addressing society’s gravest problems.

Read King’s words.

Not every participant in the Civil Rights movement gets as much attention as King.

Our breaking news archive has more stories about racial justice.

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