Tue, Jan 17, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Long live the King's message of racial equality

REFOCUSING ACTIVISM Hundreds of supporters gathered at a church where Martin Luther King made an anti-Vietnam speech and called for his dream to be kept alive

AP , NEW YORK

The Reverend Martin Luther King acknowledges the crowd at the Lincoln Memorial for his ``I Have a Dream'' speech during the March on Washington in this Aug. 28, 1963, file photo. The march was organized to support proposed civil rights legislation and end segregation.

PHOTO: AP

On what would have been Martin Luther King's 77th birthday, hundreds of people, including celebrities and King's son, gathered to celebrate his legacy and urge for continued efforts to keep alive his message of equality.

The Sunday service, with rousing singing and speeches calling for a refocusing on King's activism, was held at the Riverside Church, where he once gave a speech opposing the Vietnam War.

"My hope is that we don't just get caught up in the celebration of remembrance but that we return to the work that he began," King's son, Martin Luther King III, said. "I don't think the nation has fully absorbed his message."

The event, called "Realizing the Dream," focused on poverty. Speakers included actress Susan Sarandon, former UN ambassador and civil rights leader Andrew Young and Jeffrey Wright, who played King in a 2001 film, Boycott.

Sarandon, who gave a reading, said she was "thrilled" to be asked to attend.

"I think this is about a reinvestment in the concepts that Martin Luther King put forward, because the battlefield has not changed," she said.

On April 4, 1967, Martin Luther King, after deliberating whether to address the Vietnam War, gave a speech at Riverside Church titled "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence."

"I come to this magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience leaves me no other choice," he said.

"Now, it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America's soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read Vietnam," he said.

Sunday's service ended as many events organized by King did, with the congregation singing We Shall Overcome.

Martin Luther King Jr. was born on Jan. 15, 1929. Yesterday was Martin Luther King Day, a US national holiday.

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