Hundreds are expected to pack the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s home church in Atlanta on Monday to mark the federal holiday for the slain civil rights leader, amid political and racial rancor as the first black president prepares to step down.
The commemoration of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who would have turned 88 on Sunday, comes on the heels of Republican President-elect Donald Trump’s inflammatory remarks about civil rights champion John Lewis, a Democratic U.S. congressman who marched with King in the 1965 voting rights march in Selma, Alabama, and was beaten by police.
Political commentary is a frequent feature of the service at Ebenezer Baptist Church where King preached. He was assassinated in 1968 at age 39.
Trump said in a weekend tweet that Lewis’ congressional district, which sweeps through the heart of Atlanta, "is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested)."
"All talk, talk, talk – no action or results. Sad!" Trump tweeted after Lewis vowed to boycott Friday’s inauguration of Trump as the 45th president
Lewis said: "I don’t see this president-elect as a legitimate president," on a segment of NBC’s "Meet the Press" released on Friday. The Democratic representative said he believed that Russia interfered with the U.S. election to replace Barack Obama.
Trump won the presidency with less support from black and Hispanic voters than any president in the past 40 years, only 8 percent and 28 percent, respectively, polling data showed.
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a former Democratic presidential candidate and Trump critic, is scheduled to speak, along with King’s youngest child, Bernice King, and a host of other speakers.
Michael Pfleger, a Roman Catholic priest and social activist from Chicago, is the keynote speaker.
The federal holiday is also celebrated with a day of service. Last year, the Obamas packed books for school children.