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MLK Day speakers call for nonviolence

They say turbulent year of covid, riots, siege reinvigorates King’s message by The Associated Press | January 19, 2021 at 4:00 a.m.

ATLANTA -- Speakers at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. holiday celebration in Atlanta called Monday for a renewed dedication to nonviolence after a turbulent year in which a deadly pandemic, protests over systemic racism and a divisive election capped by an attack on the U.S. Capitol strained Americans' capacity for civility.

"This King holiday has not only come at a time of great peril and physical violence, it has also come during a time of violence in our speech -- what we say and how we say it," said the Rev. Bernice King, the slain civil-rights leader's daughter. "It is frankly out of control and we are causing too much harm to one another."

The coronavirus pandemic forced the annual King Day service at Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church online during the 35th celebration of his birthday as a national holiday. His family was among a sparse group wearing masks and sitting far apart amid mostly empty pews as others delivered remarks remotely.

Bernice King said the toll of the pandemic, lingering anger over killings of unarmed Black people and the deadly siege in Washington by supporters of President Donald Trump all underscore an urgent need to pursue what her father called "the beloved community" -- a world in which conflict is solved nonviolently and compassion dictates policy.

[Video not showing up above? Click here to watch » https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v65qv6QF_RM]

She quoted her father's words from more than 50 years ago: "There is such a thing as being too late."

"We still have a choice today -- nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation," Bernice King said, again reciting the words of her father. "This may well be mankind's last chance to choose between chaos and community."

The ceremony included recorded remarks by President-elect Joe Biden, who recalled sensing the civil-rights leader's "restless spirit" during a visit to the National Civil Rights Museum housed at the Tennessee motel where he was fatally shot outside his room.

"We must not rest. It's our responsibility to come together, all Americans, to bring peace to that restless spirit," Biden said. "... That's our charge in the days ahead. That's the charge in the years ahead."

U.S. Sen.-elect Raphael Warnock, Ebenezer's pastor, appealed for unity after his victory in a runoff election Jan. 5.

"Let us stand together, let us work together," Warnock said, calling the pandemic a reminder that all people are "tied together, as Dr. King said, in a single garment of destiny."

"Because we're dealing with a deadly airborne disease, my neighbor coughs and I'm imperiled by the cough of my neighbor," Warnock said. "That doesn't make my neighbor my enemy. That means that our destiny is tied together."

Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated April 4, 1968, while supporting striking sanitation workers in Memphis. Had he lived, he would have turned 92 on his birthday Friday.

An eternal flame burns at the tomb of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King, on Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Branden Camp)
An eternal flame burns at the tomb of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King, on Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Branden Camp)
Alexis Upshaw, left, holding 2-year-old Ari Upshaw, takes a photo as Ty Upshaw, 7, right, adjusts the mask of his sister, Mila Upshaw, 5, in front of the birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Branden Camp)
Alexis Upshaw, left, holding 2-year-old Ari Upshaw, takes a photo as Ty Upshaw, 7, right, adjusts the mask of his sister, Mila Upshaw, 5, in front of the birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Branden Camp)
The Historic Ebenezer First Baptist Church is reflected in a photo of Martin Luther King Jr., Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Branden Camp)
The Historic Ebenezer First Baptist Church is reflected in a photo of Martin Luther King Jr., Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Branden Camp)
A man takes a photo of the Historic Ebenezer First Baptist Church where Martin Luther King Jr. preached on Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Branden Camp)
A man takes a photo of the Historic Ebenezer First Baptist Church where Martin Luther King Jr. preached on Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Branden Camp)
G.A. Breedlove stands outside of the historic Ebenezer First Baptist Church where Martin Luther King Jr. preached on Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Branden Camp)
G.A. Breedlove stands outside of the historic Ebenezer First Baptist Church where Martin Luther King Jr. preached on Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Branden Camp)
Flowers lay in front of the birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Branden Camp)
Flowers lay in front of the birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Branden Camp)
FILE - In this Aug. 28, 1963 file photo, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, addresses marchers during his "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. The annual celebration of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in his hometown in Atlanta is calling for renewed dedication to nonviolence following a turbulent year. The slain civil rights leader's daughter, the Rev. Bernice King, said in an online church service Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, that physical violence and hateful speech are “out of control” in the aftermath of a divisive election followed by a deadly siege on the U.S. Capitol in Washington by supporters of President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/File)
FILE - In this Aug. 28, 1963 file photo, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, addresses marchers during his "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. The annual celebration of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in his hometown in Atlanta is calling for renewed dedication to nonviolence following a turbulent year. The slain civil rights leader's daughter, the Rev. Bernice King, said in an online church service Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, that physical violence and hateful speech are “out of control” in the aftermath of a divisive election followed by a deadly siege on the U.S. Capitol in Washington by supporters of President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/File)
Anthony Wilson puts on a MLK mask on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Branden Camp)
Anthony Wilson puts on a MLK mask on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Branden Camp)
FILE - In this Jan. 9, 2020 file photo, Bernice King, daughter of slain civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., speaks about a series of events to be held in and around The King Center in Atlanta. The annual celebration of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in his hometown in Atlanta is calling for renewed dedication to nonviolence following a turbulent year. The slain civil rights leader's daughter said in an online church service Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, that physical violence and hateful speech are “out of control” in the aftermath of a divisive election followed by a deadly siege on the U.S. Capitol in Washington by supporters of President Donald Trump.(AP Photo/ Ron Harris, File)
FILE - In this Jan. 9, 2020 file photo, Bernice King, daughter of slain civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., speaks about a series of events to be held in and around The King Center in Atlanta. The annual celebration of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in his hometown in Atlanta is calling for renewed dedication to nonviolence following a turbulent year. The slain civil rights leader's daughter said in an online church service Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, that physical violence and hateful speech are “out of control” in the aftermath of a divisive election followed by a deadly siege on the U.S. Capitol in Washington by supporters of President Donald Trump.(AP Photo/ Ron Harris, File)
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