Tributes, protests mark U.S. Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 19, 2015 12:42 PM

By Laila Kearney and Sebastien Malo

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Tributes to civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. were held around the United States on Monday as protests over the treatment of minorities by law enforcement were set to roll on across the country.

Observers of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a federal holiday first celebrated in 1986, have this year linked it to the message voiced in recent months during demonstrations over police brutality.

Marches and rallies were planned for Monday in major cities, such as Dallas and New York, where the family of Eric Garner, who died after being placed in a police chokehold, was set to visit the Brooklyn street where two uniformed officers were ambushed in December by a gunman claiming to avenge Garner's death.

Decisions by grand juries not to indict officers in the deaths of Garner and Michael Brown, an unarmed black man shot dead by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, touched off months of protests across the country, with the rallying cry, "Black lives matter."

That sentiment resounded even at traditional events honoring King that were under way elsewhere, including a King commemoration at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where the slain civil rights leader once preached.

"We all need to remember him this day because we still don't have complete freedom," said Kelly Pongee, 50, of Jonesboro, Georgia, who was among hundreds of people who waited for hours to attend the service.

"Look at what they're doing to the voting rights. Look at Ferguson and those other places. Black people and poor people are still treated differently," Pongee said.

Fellow churchgoer Arthur Williams, 60, of Atlanta, said King was a guiding light in the ongoing efforts toward equality for minorities in the United States.

"The struggle hasn't stopped," Williams said. "Even with a black president in the White House, people of my hue are still the recipients of injustices."

Actor David Oyelowo, who portrays King in the new movie "Selma," about the 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, was a featured speaker at the church event, which was held a day before King's children head to court in a legal fight over King's Nobel Peace Prize medal and Bible.

Across the country in northern California, tickets sold out for the final run on Monday of the Freedom Train, the last of the more than two dozen official train services launched 30 years ago by Coretta Scott King in honor of her husband, according to the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr Association of Santa Clara Valley.

(Additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Barbara Goldberg)