Shutdown and disunity themes of MLK celebration in Atlanta

January 21, 2019 - 3:31 pm

ATLANTA (AP) — A commemorative service for Martin Luther King Jr. that was nearly imperiled by the federal government shutdown was held Monday morning in Atlanta at a church called King's "spiritual home."

King's daughter, the Rev. Bernice King, said in her remarks that the annual service at Ebenezer Baptist Church came during a moment of crisis in America. She condemned the gridlock and partisanship in Washington that led to the shutdown.

"Our humanity is literally on the verge of digressing to two Americas and becoming the dis-United State of America," she said.

King also slammed what she called "the powerful resurgence of nationalistic and white supremacist ideologies" around the world.

The event was attended by Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue, Democratic Congresswoman Lucy McBath, and Emma Gonzalez, a survivor of the mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in February.

The site of the annual service, Ebenezer Baptist Church, sits amid the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park in the "Sweet Auburn" neighborhood of Atlanta. The civil rights leader was co-pastor with his father at the church from 1960 until his assassination in 1968.

The park was closed amid the government shutdown until Delta Air Lines gave the National Park Service a grant to reopen the site. Delta is headquartered in Atlanta.

In a statement posted to LinkedIn, Delta CEO Ed Bastian said the grant would keep the sites open from Jan. 19 to Feb. 3, the day of the upcoming Super Bowl game in Atlanta.

"These historic landmarks represent the strength of our community and should always be made available for the public to enjoy," Bastian said.

Perdue, who is white, recounted growing up in Georgia during segregation and praised King as an inspiring leader who changed the world through courage.

"He gave us hope during some of this country's darkest days," Perdue said of King. "Our country has overcome a lot, but there is much left to be done."

Ebenezer Church's current pastor, the Rev. Raphael G. Warnock, also took aim at the government shutdown, calling this "a time of narrow vision and petty politicians."

Gonzalez sat just behind the speaker's podium throughout much of the televised and livestreamed service, a highly visible position for the high school student turned gun-control activist. She said that King had paved the wave for future generations of peaceful protests.

The celebration took on special significance as Jan. 15 marked what would have been King's 90th birthday.

The church is often referred to as King's "spiritual home" because his father was the pastor there for four decades and King was born around the corner, grew up in the neighborhood and delivered some of his first sermons there. A private funeral service was held for King at Ebenezer Baptist on April 9, 1968, five days after his murder.

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