Ceremony Honoring King Challenges Today's Generation; Daughter Stresses Need for Racial Equality

From the pulpit of the church where Martin Luther King Jr. once was pastor, Atlanta's mayor reminded the congregation Monday that his work for peace and justice remains unfinished.

Mayor Shirley Franklin admonished congregants at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church not to pay tribute to King's dream on his birthday, observed as a national holiday Monday, and then contradict it the next.

"Millions can't find jobs, have no health insurance and struggle to make ends meet, working minimum wage jobs. What's going on?" she said, repeating a refrain from soul singer Marvin Gaye.

"Thousands of black and Latino students drop out of high school believing education will not matter and statistics say it doesn't because they can't find jobs ... What's going on?"

Click here to see photos of events remembering Martin Luther King Jr.

Earlier in the service, Georgia's newly elected congressman, Rep. Hank Johnson, paid tribute to King's children and their late mother, Coretta Scott King, who died nearly a year ago.

"On this day we honor their sacrifice and commitment, and we must carry on their work," said Johnson, a Democrat. "Today as we salute Dr. King, we also lift up the life and work of Mrs. King who left us last year."

President Bush, in an unannounced stop at a high school near the White House, said people should honor King on the holiday by finding ways to give back to their communities. Classes were not in session but volunteers were sprucing up the school.

"I encourage people all around the country to seize any opportunity they can to help somebody in need," Bush said. "And by helping somebody in need you're honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King."

In a ceremony Sunday at Ebenezer Baptist Church, King's eldest daughter evoked the civil rights movement while reminding those remembering her parents that America has not yet reached the promised land of peace and racial equality.

"We must keep reaching across the table and, in the tradition of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, feed each other," Yolanda King said Sunday during a presentation that was part motivational speech, part drama.

Yolanda King, 51, told The Associated Press the holiday provides an opportunity for everyone to live her father's dream, and that she has her mother's example to follow.

"I connected with her spirit so strongly," she said when asked how she is coping with her mother's loss. "I am in direct contact with her spirit, and that has given me so much peace and so much strength."

Several hundred people gathered Monday morning in West Columbia, S.C., for a breakfast prayer service honoring King.

The Rev. Brenda Kneece, 45, executive minister of the South Carolina Christian Action Council, said King set the standard for sacrifice and vision.

"The vision became even more powerful because he understood the risks he was taking," Kneece said. "It's very important for our children to know that his sacrifice didn't win the war. We still have to keep at it."

A management refusal to grant the King holiday as a paid day off led to a job action Monday at a huge Smithfield Foods Inc. hog slaughtering plant at Tar Heel, N.C.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union estimated that 400 of the 2,500 people scheduled to work at the Smithfield plant walked out or didn't show up for work Monday. The union and the workers asked Smithfield last week to grant Monday as a paid holiday, but the company said the request came too late for a change of work plans.

This year's holiday comes on the day King would have turned 78. King was assassinated while standing on the balcony of a hotel in Memphis, Tenn., on April 4, 1968. His confessed killer, James Earl Ray, was arrested two months later in London.

Coretta Scott King died last year on Jan. 31 at age 78. An activist in her own right, she also fought to shape and preserve her husband's legacy after his death, and shortly after his death she founded what would become the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change.