Coretta Scott King, recovering from a stroke and heart attack she suffered last August, missed Monday's service at Ebenezer Baptist Church. She had received a standing ovation Saturday night when she appeared on stage with her children at an awards dinner, but she did not speak.
Some of the speakers used the church pulpit where King preached from 1960 until his death in 1968 to criticize the Iraq war, saying that money being used by the military overseas could be put to better use domestically, such as to improve U.S. education, especially for blacks.
Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin said the city, as keeper of King's legacy, has a particular obligation to preserve his "legacy of fighting for social and economic justice, a legacy of marching with the poor and the neglected, a legacy of demanding peace against senseless war."
This year is the 20th anniversary of the federal holiday, first held on Jan. 20, 1986. Sunday would have been King's 77th birthday.
"This, Atlanta, is a time for rigorous and vigorous positive action," Franklin said. "As we celebrate, let us not confine our actions to what is easy, convenient or acceptable to the powers that be for we are called by King's legacy to bold, courageous, audacious, persistent and tireless action."
Franklin urged listeners to "comprehend the full message of Dr. King" — by helping the young, the old and the poor and demanding more federal funding for Hurricane Katrina victims.
"Employ a homeless man or woman," she said. "Sponsor a homeless family. Give a convicted felon who has served his time another chance."
Former U.S. Rep. Floyd Flake, pastor of the Allen African Methodist Episcopal Church in Queens, N.Y., said that King accomplished much for blacks in the United States but blacks today need to continue to strive for more.
"Why are we living like this when so many sacrifices have been made?" he said.
Flake urged blacks to make "everybody accountable" as King once did.
"Martin Luther King came on the scene at a time when there was a need to say, 'Don't read the tea leaves, read what is happening.' If we don't change things now we won't have the opportunity to change them in the future," Flake said. "The paradigm needs to shift and if the paradigm doesn't shift, we're still going to be coming MLK Day after MLK Day singing 'We Shall Overcome."'