On MLK Day, activists celebrate recent progress but push for more

Nearly 50 years after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., civil rights activists see much left to be done to realize the civil rights leader's dream.

Jason Miczek/Reuters
Democratic US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during 'King Day at the Dome 2016' ceremonies in front of the South Carolina State House in Columbia, S.C., Monday.

At the South Carolina Statehouse, more than a thousand people gathered to honor the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., as they have every year for the past 17 years. This year, however, was noticeably different; for the first time, there was no Confederate battle flag looming over the day's events.

The Confederate battle flag came down shortly after nine black churchgoers were killed by an alleged white supremacist while attending a bible study meeting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., last June. The incident shocked the nation and sparked a fervent debate around the country about the significance of Confederate symbols in modern life. 

South Carolina's Republican Gov. Nikki Haley led the charge, calling on state lawmakers to pass legislation to remove the flag. And on July 10, after flying on State House grounds for 54 years, the flag came down.

Community activists in South Carolina and around the United States spent the day celebrating the progress that has been made since Dr. King's death in 1968, but also continued to push for further change.

South Carolina's NAACP organized a rally themed "education equity," with speakers calling for the state to put more money toward poorer, more rural school districts, where the majority are black students.

All three main Democratic presidential candidates attended the rally — Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O'Malley — as well as a larger-than-usual police detail.

In Minneapolis, activists for the Black Lives Matter movement planned a march over a Mississippi River bridge connecting Minneapolis and St. Paul during a Martin Luther King Day rally.

The Star Tribune reports that the activists have big asks for authorities in both cities. The activists are urging police to release additional footage of the November fatal shooting of 24-year-old Jamar Clark by a Minneapolis police officer. In St. Paul, protesters want the case of Marcus Golden reopened. Mr. Golden was fatally shot by St. Paul police early last year. A grand jury declined to indict the officers involved in that shooting.

An overflow crowd at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta came out to pay homage to King's legacy at an annual commemorative service under the theme: "Remember! Celebrate! Act! King's Legacy of Freedom for Our World."

US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro told the churchgoers about King's trip to Chicago and his awakening to a housing crisis that led to organized protests and policy reform. He said King moved into an apartment on the city's west side 50 years ago and described seeing "a daily battle against depression and hopelessness" as babies were attacked by rats and children wore clothes too thin to protect against the Midwest winter.

"You see, Dr. King knew that housing was more than about just bricks and mortar," Mr. Castro said."He knew that if you tell me where a family lives, I'll tell what jobs are available to them, where their children go to school, the quality of the air they breathe, I'll tell you the odds they face." 

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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