ATLANTA (AP) – The inauguration of the first black U.S. president is a huge step toward realizing civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of racial equality, but there is still work to be done, King’s nephew told a large crowd Monday at the church where the civil rights leader once preached.
Isaac Newton Farris, president of The King Center, told the jubilant crowd on the holiday celebrating King’s 80th birthday that the election of Sen. Barack Obama was built on a foundation laid by King and was a “gigantic leap” toward the fulfillment of King’s dream.
The sanctuary of Ebenezer Baptist Church was packed, with dozens of people left outside.
“There is definitely a spiritual connection between these two events,” Farris told the mostly black congregation that erupted in applause at any mention of Obama’s name.
But he cautioned the crowd that Obama’s ascent to the nation’s highest political office will not be the final achievement of King’s vision.
Farris said that as long as disparities persist in health care, education and economics, King’s work remains undone.
“The dream was not about an individual or any race of people attaining power,” Farris said. “It was a human dream.”
King preached at Ebenezer Baptist Church from 1960 until his death in 1968.
Only one of King’s three living children, Bernice, attended the Monday event. His sister, Christine King Farris, led the ceremony. King’s son Martin Luther King III was in Washington already and his other son Dexter King, who lives in California, did not attend.
In Washington, Obama paid tribute to King as “not just a dreamer, but a doer,” and urged all Americans to pitch in and take part in community service.
Obama did his part Monday, visiting wounded troops at a military hospital and helping to paint a wall at a shelter for homeless teens.
Celebrities also pitched in. Pop singer Usher and actor Tobey Maguire of “Spider-Man” fame were among the volunteers who worked to spruce up a Washington elementary school.
Oprah Winfrey’s TV crew was on hand to capture the moment, along with MTV.
Meanwhile in Minneapolis, former Secretary of State, Colin Powell, the first black person to hold the office, said at a breakfast honoring King that if the civil rights icon were alive, he would be at Tuesday’s inauguration, beaming with pride as Obama takes the oath of office.
“What a tribute to our country … to the memory of the man – a man who said he wanted his children to be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” he said.