ATLANTA – Thousands gathered for the 36th annual commemorative service for Martin Luther King Jr. today at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he preached until his assassination in 1968. Organizers hope for a more peaceful gathering than the rally held on Dr. King’s birthday on Thursday against President Bush’s visit to the Reverend’s tomb.
"Peace, not war; that's what Martin stood for!" and "Bush, go home!," over 800 protestors chanted.
The demonstrators argued that Bush's policies on the Iraq war, affirmative action and social service funding directly contradicted King's legacy.
While Monday’s service is likely to see less discord, the same anti-war message will be peppered throughout the day.
Dr. King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, who urged world leaders to avoid an impending war in Iraq during her remarks at last year's service, said she would address the issue again. His son, Martin Luther King III, president of the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change, will also speak for peace during his opening speech for the service.
The daylong celebration of King’s birthday will include memorials, church services and volunteer projects around the nation. This year, the annual theme, “Remember! Celebrate! Act! A Day On... Not a Day off,” will emphasize the importance of community service.
In the late afternoon, an annual march through Atlanta’s historic Sweet Auburn district, where King grew up, is planned, and more than 15,000 people were expected to eat at the Hosea Williams Feed the Hungry dinner at Turner Field.
Williams, one of King's first lieutenants in the civil rights battle, died in 2000 after a battle with cancer. Thursday marked King’s 75th birthday.