Arizona Rampage Looms as King Remembered in Church

January 17, 2011 - 2:01 PM

Atlanta (AP) - The shootings in Arizona loomed large as the nation marked the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday, with many speakers drawing on his message of nonviolence as a key lesson in the wake of the tragedy.

President Barack Obama said part of King's legacy was about service and urged Americans to get out into their communities - a step he suggested would have special meaning following the Tucson rampage.

"After a painful week where so many of us were focused on the tragedy, it's good for us to remind ourselves of what this country is all about," he told reporters as he and first lady Michelle Obama took part in a painting project at a school on Capitol Hill in Washington.

National and local politicians joined members of the King family at his former church in Atlanta to mark what would have been the civil rights icon's 82nd birthday. It was also the 25th anniversary of the federal holiday established to honor King, who won the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize.

Attorney General Eric Holder told the audience at Ebenezer Baptist Church that the Arizona violence, which killed 6 people and seriously wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, was a call to recommit itself to King's values of nonviolence, tolerance, compassion and justice.

Holder praised King as "our nation's greatest drum major of peace."

"Last week a senseless rampage in Tuscon reminded us that more than 40 years after Dr. King's own tragic death, our struggle to eradicate violence and to promote peace goes on," Holder said.

Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, who worked with King during the civil rights movement, issued a renewed call for Americans to unite in peace and love as King preached during his lifetime.

"If Dr. King could speak to us today, he would tell us that it does not matter how much we disapprove of another persons point of view, there is never a reason to deny another human being the respect he or she deserves," Lewis said.

Members of the King family also laid a wreath at the Atlanta tombs of Martin Luther King Jr. and his widow, Coretta Scott King.

King is the only American who was not a U.S. president to have a federal holiday named in his honor. He has been recognized on the third Monday in January since 1986.

The commemorative service caps a week of events that included a ceremony honoring King at the state Capitol and The Salute to Greatness Awards Dinner, which honored the late Sen. Edward Kennedy for his work on civil rights. His widow, Victoria, attended the ceremony and accepted the award on his behalf. The senator died at age 77 in 2009 after a battle with brain cancer.