They came by wheelchair, crutches, motorized wheelchairs, buses from high schools around the country, bicycles, on foot and from their jobs, to send a message that the spirit of peace still lives.

The onlookers assembled at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial for a candlelight vigil, April 4, to commemorate the 44th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., hailed as one of the most profound peacemakers of our time.

Jesse Parker, 58, from Bethesda, Md., lost his leg from cancer yet he walked to the site to pay tribute to the great leader. “Dr. King dedicated his entire life so that others could have civil and human rights. The least I could do was come here.”

There was also a brief procession at the opening of the monument and a wreath was laid at the foot of the Stone of Hope at the memorial.

“This is not only a time of reflection of Dr. King’s legacy. It is a time for action. We must not let those who want to turn the back the hands of time. We must remain vigilant by peaceful means to stand for democracy, civil rights and equality in America,” said Harry E. Johnson, president and CEO of The Washington, DC Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation.

Since its opening, millions of visitors from around the globe have been able to witness firsthand the message of hope, justice, democracy and love that resonates from the crescent-shaped walls of the Memorial, which proudly sits between two Presidents.

Dr. King was assassinated at 6:01p.m., April 4, 1968, at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., at the age of 39. King went to Memphis to support 1,300 African- American sanitation workers who were members of the American Federation of State and County Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union protesting against unequal wages and better working conditions.

“Now more than ever we should ban together to keep Dr. King’s legacy alive. There are many elected and appointed leaders who are trying to destroy everything that Dr. King stood for. We must never give up,” said Lee Saunders, secretary-treasurer, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO.

Civil Rights leader, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) said Dr. King’s assassination had an effect on our consciousness unlike the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy.

“Forty-four years ago Dr. King’s death gave birth to the 1968 Fair House Act. His memory lives on in this memorial that commemorates his life. But as Dr. King continued to inspire progress, even in the wake of his death with the passage of the 1968 Fair Housing Act, April 4th must be for us a day to prod the nation to continue giving birth to the progress for which he lived,” said Norton.

Arun Gandhi, grandson of ‘Mahatma’ Mohandas K. Gandhi, the great Indian leader who won the independence of his nation from British rule by employing a movement of nonviolence and civil disobedience, said he hopes one day soon to meet with President Barack Obama. “I pray for him every day because he is surrounded by individuals who are not accustomed to peaceful means to settle differences among people and nations,” Gandhi said. “Many people say they are working for peace but don’t really know what peace is. Passive violence can create a reaction of aggressive violence. We must work hard to restore the peaceful methods of Dr. King, my grandfather and others.” 

Galen Muhammad of Forestville, Md., agreed. He is upset about a group of the New Black Panther Party taking out a bounty on George Zimmerman, the Florida man who recently killed an innocent Black teenager, Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman has not been arrested for the shooting and public outcries for justice have mounted around the country.

“This is not the peaceful way to achieve what we want,” said Muhammad. “There also needs to be a peaceful end to the way that law abiding Muslims are being unfairly labeled by the media and mistreated in America.”

Some people, like Dante Parker, 29, his wife, Tiffany, their four children and other family members were visiting the site without any knowledge of the commemoration. “It’s a breathtaking exhibit. It brings people from all races and ethnic groups together under the banner of peace,” said Parker.

Valencia Mohammed

Special to the AFRO