MLK honored nationwide at time of focus on race relations

Sol-Amari Saunders, right, 7, of Manhattan, joins a march and rally in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Monday, Jan. 19, 2015 in New York. AP PHOTO/MARY ALTAFFER

NEW YORK – From New York City to San Francisco, people are remembering the life of Martin Luther King Jr.

More than 2,200 people gathered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in Prospect Heights to remember King’s life, legacy and message, CBS New York reported.

“It’s Martin Luther King Day, and we always try to do some kind of service or come to a great event like this,” said Shawn Long of Clinton Hill.

The event has been going strong for 29 years and is the largest of its kind in New York City.

“This is a free event in the spirit of how do we give back and keep the energy of Dr. King alive,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who served as master of ceremonies.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Sen. Charles Schumer attended the event.

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Schumer said this day reminds us of how far we’ve come, but how far we have to go.

The commemorations of the civil rights icon comes at a time of increased focus on race relations in New York City.

Several demonstrations are planned to protest the apparent chokehold death of Eric Garner, who was black, by a white police officer.

De Blasio is also scheduled to appear with the Rev. Al Sharpton for the first time since a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict the officer.

Sharpton has been a flashpoint in the mayor’s tense relations with police.

Meanwhile, at Ebenezer Baptist Church, the spiritual home of the slain civil rights leader in Atlanta, actor David Oyelowo told a crowd that playing King was deeply emotional and a heavy burden to bear.

Oyelowo, who played King in “Selma,” gave a tribute Monday at the 47th Martin Luther King Jr. Annual Commemorative Service. He got choked up as he talked about putting himself in King’s place.

“I felt his pain. I felt his burden. I felt the love he had for his family. I felt the love he still has for you Dr. Bernice King,” he said, addressing King’s daughter.

“I only stepped into his shoes for a moment, but I asked myself, ‘How did he do it?'” Oyelowo said. He explained that he, like King, has four children and said he cannot imagine walking through life knowing there are people who wanted to take their lives or that of his wife.

Bernice King invoked the deaths of Garner in New York City, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the fatal shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio.

“I cannot help but remember many women and men who have been gunned down, not by a bad police force but by some bad actors in a police force,” she said.

She called on those who came to celebrate her father’s legacy to act out against injustice but also to remember his message of nonviolence.

“We cannot act unless we understand what Dr. King taught us. He taught us that we still have a choice to make: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation. I challenge you to work with us as we help this nation choose nonviolence,” Bernice King said.

U.S. Rep. John Lewis, who told the crowd he was just 17 when King sent him a bus ticket to come to Montgomery to join the civil rights movement, recalled the man he called his hero and his leader, a man who is “still a guiding light in my life.”

“The memory of such a great man can never, ever fade,” Lewis said. “I still think about him almost every day.”

Lewis told CBS News correspondent Jan Crawfordthat King was like an older brother to him, and he never expected America to come so far.

Meanwhile, in California, a civil rights tradition is coming to an end.

CBS San Francisco reports that after 30 years, the last of America’s “Freedom Trains” is taking its final voyage down the rails on Monday.

The Caltrain Freedom Train will travel for the last time from San Jose to San Francisco on to commemorate the civil rights marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965.

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