Thousands were expected to gather Monday and listen as Martin Luther King Jr.'s son, Martin Luther King III, president of the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change, kicks off the annual commemorative service at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where his father preached until his assassination in 1968.
Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday tribute last week was marked by discord, with hundreds protesting President Bush's visit to the slain civil rights leader's tomb.
Organizers of ceremonies honoring the federal holiday Monday for King were hoping for a bit more harmony.
On Thursday, about 800 protesters rallied against Mr. Bush's visit to the tomb on what would have been King's 75th birthday.
Beating drums and chanting, "Peace, not war; that's what Martin stood for!" and "Bush, go home!" many of the protesters said Mr. Bush's policies on the Iraq war, affirmative action and social service funding directly contradicted King's legacy.
The anti-war message was to be prominent again on Monday.
King's widow, 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. Coretta Scott King has continued to speak out in opposition to the war.
The daylong celebration of King's birthday was to include memorials, church services and volunteer projects around the country. Organizers of holiday events have long emphasized the importance of community service in their annual King Day theme of "Remember! Celebrate! Act! A Day On … Not a Day off."
An annual march through Atlanta's historic Sweet Auburn district, where King grew up, was planned for the afternoon, 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.
In connection with the holiday, Secretary of State Colin Powell remembers the first time that he, as a young black Army officer, was allowed to buy a hamburger at a drive-in restaurant in Phenix City, Alabama. He credits King for the law that let him do it.
It was July 1964, when the Civil Rights Act was passed, "and I was able to go to the drive-in hamburger stand that had denied me service just a few weeks earlier (and) that now had to serve me," Powell said in an interview aired Sunday. "I'll never forget that particular day. … And no one deserves greater credit for bringing about that day and that act than Dr. King."
Powell was interviewed for a syndicated television program on King titled "We Have a Dream," reminiscent of King's "I have a dream" speech at the March on Washington on Aug. 28, 1963.
Powell, whose last military job was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the nation's highest-ranking soldier, noted black soldiers who fought thanklessly for their country: the post-Civil War Buffalo Soldiers on the American frontier; and the Tuskegee Airmen, the Triple Nickel Parachute Battalion and the Montford Point Marines of World War II.
"All of them went and served their nation over a period of close to 300 years of military service in this country when they were … asked to give blood for the nation but were not going to get the privileges of being citizens of this nation," Powell said.
"But they did it anyway. They did it anyway in the certainty that sooner or later right would triumph and our Constitution would be made whole."
Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker remembers his tenure as an aide and confidante to King.
"King was a super American patriot, despite the obstacles placed in his path," said Walker, 75, at his Yonkers home. "He did not drape himself in the flag, but he draped himself in the message of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution."
At his last appearance in New York, just 10 days before he was assassinated in 1968, King installed Walker as pastor of Harlem's Canaan Baptist Church.
From that post, Walker continued working for civil rights and serving his own congregation by promoting affordable housing, a senior citizen center and programs for the hungry and homeless.