America pays tribute to Martin Luther King as events held across the nation

Events around America Monday honored Martin Luther King Jr., as the actor who portrayed the slain civil rights leader in "Selma" paid tribute at a commemorative service while students marched through New York City.

Playing King was deeply emotional and a heavy burden to bear, actor David Oyelowo told a crowd gathered at Ebenezer Baptist Church, the spiritual home of the slain civil rights leader in Atlanta.

Oyelowo gave a tribute Monday at the 47th Martin Luther King Jr. Annual Commemorative Service. He got choked up as he talked about putting himself in King's place.

"I felt his pain. I felt his burden. I felt the love he had for his family. I felt the love he still has for you Dr. Bernice King," he said, addressing King's daughter.

"I only stepped into his shoes for a moment, but I asked myself, 'How did he do it?'" Oyelowo said. He explained that he, like King, has four children and said he cannot imagine walking through life knowing there are people who wanted to take their lives or that of his wife.

Bernice King invoked the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Eric Garner in New York City and the fatal shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio.

"I cannot help but remember many women and men who have been gunned down, not by a bad police force but by some bad actors in a police force," she said.

She called on those who came to celebrate her father's legacy to act out against injustice but also to remember his message of nonviolence.

"We cannot act unless we understand what Dr. King taught us. He taught us that we still have a choice to make: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation. I challenge you to work with us as we help this nation choose nonviolence," Bernice King said.

U.S. Rep. John Lewis, who told the crowd he was just 17 when King sent him a bus ticket to come to Montgomery to join the civil rights movement, recalled the man he called his hero and his leader, a man who is "still a guiding light in my life."

"The memory of such a great man can never, ever fade," Lewis said. "I still think about him almost every day."

In New York City, students were marching through the historic African-American neighborhood of Harlem to honor King.

A group of about 100 middle school students, teachers and parents from Manhattan Country School sang "We Shall Overcome" as they marched past iconic landmarks including the Apollo Theater on Monday. Students stopped at various points along the way to give speeches about topics including racial inequality and police brutality.

Seventh-grade English teacher Tom Grattan says the students felt a special urgency this year because of the increased focus on race relations in the nation's largest city.

Fourteen-year-old Samori Coates gave a speech about the unfairness of the American justice system. He said people need to understand that King's dream has not come true yet.

In Connecticut, hundreds of people gathered at several events to celebrate King’s life.

The 30th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Breakfast drew more than 500 people including state political and religious leaders to the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford on Monday. The event has awarded more than $200,000 in scholarships to female African-American high school seniors.

In Bridgeport, Connecticut Democratic Congressman Jim Himes said he joined more than 500 volunteers to work on community service projects on the University of Bridgeport's annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.

An annual Martin Luther King Jr. scholarship breakfast was held at Platt High School in Meriden, and Mt. Olive AME Zion Church in Waterbury held a special service.

And on Sunday, Oprah Winfrey and fellow actors from the movie "Selma" marched with hundreds in a tribute to King

Winfrey helped lead a march with "Selma" director Ava DuVernay and Oyelowo,

"Selma" chronicled turbulent events leading up to the historic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, and the subsequent passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Winfrey played activist Annie Lee Cooper in the movie, which was nominated for two Oscars, in categories of best picture and best original song.

A producer on the film, Winfrey praised the 1965 marchers for their courage in meeting fierce opposition on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma — scene of Sunday's remembrance march.

"Look at what they were able to do with so little, and look at how we now have so much," Winfrey said. "If they could do that, imagine what now can be accomplished with the opportunity through social media and connection, the opportunity through understanding that absolutely we are more alike than we are different."

White officers used clubs and tear gas on March 7, 1965 — "Bloody Sunday" — to rout marchers intent on walking some 50 miles to Montgomery, the Alabama capital, to seek the right for blacks to register to vote. King led a new march later that month that reached Montgomery, with the crowd swelling to 25,000.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.