Martin Luther King, Jr. Remembered With Day of Service

BY Lea Winerman  January 18, 2010 at 11:25 AM EDT

At the beginning of a busy week — with a crisis in Haiti and in the thick of health care reform negotiations — President Obama will set aside much of his day Monday to remember civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. and participate in the national day of service in his memory.

The president will host a conversation at the White House with African-American seniors and their grandchildren, and will speak at a concert at the Kennedy Center. He’ll also attend a public-service event in Washington, D.C.

Congress enacted a holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1983, and the holiday was officially designated a national day of service in 1994. USA Today has a slideshow of volunteer efforts around the country, and a federal government Web site has a list of volunteer opportunities.

But on Sunday, former congressman Harris Wofford of Pennsylvania — one of the original co-sponsors of the day of service legislation — told the Washington Post that the day still has a “long way to go” before it becomes the day he envisioned, although he said it took a “quantum leap” forward with the president’s renewed emphasis on the service aspect of the day last year.

“Martin Luther King was not a man asking people to go around the campfire singing ‘Kumbaya,’” Wofford said. “He would want this to be a day of all races and faiths and sectors working together, having the experience of serving alongside people of very different backgrounds.”

In other news of the day:

  • After more than a decade of planning and fundraising, work began in December on the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial on the National Mall.
  • Officials at Bethel College in Newton, Kans., discovered a long-lost tape of a 50-year-old speech King gave at the school in 1960. They’ll play the recording at a commemoration Monday.
  • Politicians and activists invoked King’s memory in the context of current headlines, from the devastation in Haiti to the Senate race to replace Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts.
  • The PBS program Religion & Ethics Newsweekly has posted a discussion with Cheryl Sanders, professor of Christian ethics at Howard University School of Divinity and senior pastor at Third Street Church of God in Washington, D.C., reflecting on King’s legacy.
  • Tavis Smiley is also looking for personal stories, photos or other recollections of Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech, delivered on April 4, 1967, in New York City, for an upcoming PBS special in March.