Attendees hold a portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. during the King Day at the Dome event, Monday, Jan. 18, 2016, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)

Attendees hold a portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. during the King Day at the Dome event, Monday, Jan. 18, 2016, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — For the first time in 17 years, civil rights leaders gathered Monday at the South Carolina Statehouse to pay homage to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. without the Confederate flag casting a long shadow over them.

The rebel banner was taken down over the summer after police said a young white man shot nine black church members to death during a Bible study in Charleston. After the massacre at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Republican Gov. Nikki Haley reversed course and made it a priority for lawmakers to pass legislation to remove the flag.

“Isn’t this a great day? It’s so nice to be standing here and not looking at that flag,” said Ezell Pittman, who attended most of the King Day anti-flag rallies since they started in 2000. “I always had faith it would come down. I hate it took what it did, but was real happy to see it go.”

Rev. Bernice King, center, and Christine King Farris, right, the daughter and sister of Rev Martin Luther King Jr., join hands along with Rev. Dr. William Barber, II, left, during the singing of “We Shall Overcome” at the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday commemorative service at Ebenezer Baptist Church where King preached, Monday, Jan. 18, 2016, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Across the country, the 30th anniversary of the holiday to honor the civil rights leader assassinated in 1968, was remembered in different ways. In Michigan, people delivered bottled water to residents of Flint amid the city’s drinking water crisis. In Atlanta, an overflow crowd listened as to the nation’s housing secretary talk about the 50th anniversary of King’s visit to Chicago to launch a campaign for fair housing. In Minnesota, a rally against police brutality was planned.

Doris Gray sits with a program during the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday commemorative service at Ebenezer Baptist Church where King preached, Monday, Jan. 18, 2016, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

South Carolina NAACP President Lonnie Randolph said the flag’s removal was tangible evidence the state cares about civil rights when pushed hard enough. But he warned there would be other fights ahead.

“I promise you, the people that gather in this building — your building — will do something this year to cause us to return to insure freedom, justice and equality is made possible for all people,” Randolph said, motioning toward the capitol behind him.

Randolph promised to keep coming to the Statehouse until King’s dream comes its full meaning in a state where there are wide gaps in education achievement between school districts in rich, White communities and poorer, Black ones, and where the governor and Republican-dominated Legislature have refused to take federal money to expand Medicaid.

Tyron White, 9, left, and Blessed Rhymer, 13 hold signs as they make their way down the route of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day parade in Jacksonville, Fla., Monday, Jan. 18, 2016. Spectators lined the streets of downtown Jacksonville to watch the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day parade despite the chilly temperatures that started the day. (Bob Self/The Florida Times-Union via AP)

About 1,000 people gathered at the Statehouse on a clear, cold day, drawn in part by appearances by all three main Democratic presidential candidates — Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley.

Sanders reminded the crowd King was a dynamic leader who wanted to help the poor. O’Malley said King would be ashamed his county has made it harder to vote and easier to buy a gun.

Huston-Tillotson University students cheer during a celebration at the University of Texas at Austin on Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, Jan. 18, 2016. Thousands marched from the statue to the Capitol. (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

Only Clinton dealt directly with the flag. She credited Haley and the Republicans with working with the NAACP after the church shooting and choosing King’s legacy over hatred.

“We couldn’t celebrate him and the Confederacy. We had to choose,” Clinton said. “And South Carolina made the right choice.”

In the nation’s capital, President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama followed the King Day theme of community service by planting vegetable seeds at a District of Columbia elementary school to honor the civil rights leader and celebrate Mrs. Obama’s anti-childhood obesity initiative.

Cynthia Wilkerson along with her sons Remy Novack, 4, and his brother Leopold,7, volunteer their Martin Luther King Jr. holiday planting native trees and shrubs at the Allison Spring Reserve Monday, Jan.18, 2016, near Olympia, Wash. One of numerous service events offered throughout the region on Monday the project was hosted by the Capitol Land Trust organization and City of Olympia. (Steve Bloom/The Olympian via AP)

They also stuffed bags with books for needy children along with young people who participate in a White House mentoring program and volunteers from the AmeriCorps national service program.

Elsewhere, an overflow crowd showed up at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta to celebrate King’s legacy at an annual commemorative service. It capped more than a week of events under the theme: “Remember! Celebrate! Act! King’s Legacy of Freedom for Our World.”

While people have been distracted by TV reality shows and music “that tears down instead of uplifts,” many injustices have occurred and “we’re about to create right here in this civilized society the wild, wild west with guns,” said King’s daughter, the Rev. Bernice King.

“Y’all, we can’t keep being distracted, because if you’re not careful, we’re about to allow a reality show host to bully himself into becoming president of the United States of America,” she said.

Julian Castro, U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, speaks during the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday commemorative service at Ebenezer Baptist Church where King preached, Monday, Jan. 18, 2016, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro told the church audience that King moved into a Chicago 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,” Castro said.

In Minneapolis, activists with the group Black Lives Matter planned to march onto a Mississippi River bridge that connects Minneapolis and St. Paul to protest what they say is the mistreatment of blacks by police.

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Associated Press writer Jeff Martin in Atlanta contributed to this report.