By MOLLY SAMUEL, WABE
This year will mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This year, the King Day holiday fell on his exact birthday; it would have been his 89th.
As always, there were celebrations around the country in his honor, but this year the observances included a new theme: the response to President Donald Trump’s alleged vulgar comments last week about immigrants from Africa and Haiti, which the president has denied.
At the annual commemorative service at Ebenezer Baptist Church, senior pastor Rev. Raphael Warnock said when he watched Trump sign a proclamation in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. on TV, it left him shaking his head.
“I was still reeling in the reports just hours earlier about a volcanic eruption of hate speech spewing out of the mouth of the same man,” Warnock said.
Warnock called on the president to repent.
“A proclamation without an apology is hypocrisy,” he said.
“I know there are those who say he didn’t say it. Others cannot recall. Then they turned around and recalled what they could not recall, and they said he did not say it,” said Warnock, who never said his name, but was making a reference to Republican Georgia Sen. David Perdue, who was in the room with Trump at the time he made the comments on immigration.
“C’mon man,” Warnock said. “It defies credulity. And the report is consistent with what we have seen and heard. This is not new. It’s just a new low. “
One politician in attendance was Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson. When he spoke, he didn’t specifically talk about Trump’s comments, but he did allude to them.
“I’m a member of this administration, and I don’t agree with the president about everything he says, or of how it’s said,” Carson said. “There is something to be said about understanding messaging. And if the way you say things is so inflammatory that people can’t hear your message, it’s not helpful.”
Other speakers called out the Trump administration’s policies.
“Things like rolling back civil rights protections at the Department of Housing and Urban Development,” said activist Bree Newsome, who addressed the congregation after Carson’s remarks.
Newsome was arrested in 2015 after she took down the Confederate flag at the South Carolina state capital. She said that too many people cite King’s words and commitment to non-violence, but then they do things counter to what she says King would have fought for.
At the end, King’s daughter, Rev. Bernice King, preached about emphasizing love, unity and faith.
“If we further polarize. If we further divide, I’m afraid it’s going to lead to our own destruction,” she said.
This story was provided by WABE.