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Remembering The Dream On MLK Day

Perhaps he might have been able to imagine it – although those who knew him have thought it unlikely – but nearly 40 years after his assassination, Americans of all walks of life are still setting aside time to remember his birthday.

Had he lived, civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would be 78 years old on this day, which is being marked by ceremonies that began last week and continue through what has been a federal holiday for over twenty years.

In Boston, Gov. Deval Patrick - the first black governor of Massachusetts, who took office only a few days ago – will be the keynote speaker at Monday's Martin Luther King Day ceremonies at Faneuil Hall, one of the nation's best known colonial landmarks, and at the United Union Methodist Church.

In New York on Sunday, some politics mixed in with the King Day observances as Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards addressed about 1,200 parishioners at Riverside Church, a multiracial, politically active Manhattan congregation where King delivered his famous "Beyond Vietnam" speech on April 4, 1967.

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Edwards called on Americans to resist President Bush's planned troop escalation in Iraq, echoing King's plea 40 years ago to end the Vietnam War. Edwards spoke from the same wooden pulpit King used and was introduced by one of King's sons, Martin Luther King III.

This year's King commemorative ceremonies are the first since the death of Coretta Scott King, who died Jan. 31, 2006, at age 78 of complications from ovarian cancer and after suffering a stroke five months earlier.

Those who worked side by side with the family in the civil rights movement have another loved one to remember this year: Dora McDonald, King's secretary first at Ebenezer Baptist and later at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

McDonald, who was 81, died Saturday in Atlanta of complications from cancer at Emory Crawford Long Hospital.

In a 1989 interview, McDonald described her work with King as "a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week job," adding that "there was never a time - and I can say this in all truthfulness, from the time I went to work for him until his death - that I regretted what I was doing or where I was at that moment."

Sunday at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta – where Dr. King preached for years – the legacy of the Kings was recalled by family and others as they gathered to mark the day.

The Kings' oldest daughter, Yolanda King, spoke to the crowd about the past and the future – with a reminder that America has not yet attained peace and racial equality.

"We must keep reaching across the table and, in the tradition of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, feed each other," said Yolanda, who is 51, urging those who honor the Kings' work to question their own beliefs on prejudice and be a personal force for peace and love.

Yolanda, who is an actress, used her craft to deliver a tribute to her parents, performing a series of skits telling stories including a girl's first ride on a desegregated bus and a college student's recollection of the 1963 desegregation of Birmingham, Alabama.

The performance was attended by members of the extended King family and Yolanda's sister, the Rev. Bernice King.

The holiday, said Yolanda, is an opportunity for everyone to live her father's dream, and that she has her mother's example to follow.

"I connected with her spirit so strongly," said Yolanda, asked how she is coping with her mother's loss. "I am in direct contact with her spirit, and that has given me so much peace and so much strength."

For 15 years, as Coretta Scott King and numerous legislators around the nation worked to establish Jan. 15 as a federal holiday, Coretta Scott King publicly celebrated her husband's birthday at his tomb and at Ebenezer Baptist, where King preached from 1960 to 1968. She founded what would become the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change.

On Saturday, King's late widow was honored at the annual Salute to Greatness Dinner, a fundraiser for the King Center.

Another commemoration of Dr. King offers the public a chance to get a closer look at his ideas and writings.

Over 600 of his personal documents have been put on display, for the first time, in Atlanta.

The exhibit - which includes an early draft of his famed "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington in 1963 - is a glimpse at the collection of more than 10,000 King papers and books that Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin helped privately acquire for $32 million last summer from Sotheby's auction house.

The mayor pulled off the deal with the help of more than 50 corporate, government and private donors to give the papers to Atlanta's Morehouse College, where King graduated in 1948 with a bachelor's degree in sociology.

The Atlanta History Center, where the exhibit will be through May 13, is anticipating widespread interest of the papers. Until now, the collection has only been displayed at Sotheby's auction house in New York, both last summer and in 2003, in conjunction with the 40th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, when King delivered his "Dream" speech about his hope that people of all races would be treated equally.

Sotheby's has called the collection "an unparalleled gathering of primary documents from Dr. King's most active years."

"The question is often asked, 'Where is the dream coming from?'" said Elizabeth Miller, who curated the Sotheby's exhibit and helped with the smaller Atlanta exhibit. "This exhibit shows the genesis and the struggle of that internal journey."

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