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Commemorations across nation reflect on King's legacy

The nation observed the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday Monday with thousands volunteering for service projects and more reflecting on his lessons of nonviolence and civility in the weeks following the shootings in Arizona.

Six people were killed Jan. 8 in Tucson, and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat, is fighting for her life. The violent outburst reminded many who gathered at King's former church in Atlanta that the Baptist preacher's message remained relevant nearly four decades after his own untimely death at the hands of an assassin.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. praised him as "our nation's greatest drum major of peace" and said the Arizona bloodshed was a call to recommit to King's values of nonviolence, tolerance, compassion and justice.

President Obama and his wife, Michelle, volunteered to paint for a service project at a middle school in Washington's Capitol Hill. He urged Americans to get out into their communities.

National and local politicians joined members of the King family in Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta to honor the civil rights icon, who would have turned 82 last Saturday.

The largely African-American gathering of about 2,000 in Ebenezer -- where King preached from 1960 until his death in 1968 -- included parents and children, members of the clergy, politicians and foot soldiers of the civil rights movement.

Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, who worked with King during the civil rights movement, issued a renewed call for Americans to unite in peace and love as King preached during his lifetime.

"If Dr. King could speak to us today, he would tell us that it does not matter how much we disapprove of another person's point of view, there is never a reason to deny another human being the respect he or she deserves," Lewis said.

The Rev. Raphael Warnock, pastor of Ebenezer, called for members of Congress to show solidarity during the State of the Union Address this month. Quoting the Bible and Abraham Lincoln, Warnock said, "A house divided against itself cannot stand."

"Maybe after Arizona what our children need to see is us sitting together," Warnock said.

In New York City, the Rev. Al Sharpton hosted a forum to honor King's legacy at his National Action Network headquarters in Harlem. Sens. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., attended, as did Rep. Charles Rangel and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who was booed by some residents still angry over the handling of the post-Christmas blizzard.

In Philadelphia, hundreds of volunteers including Mayor Michael Nutter helped refurbish computers for needy residents as part of the city's "day of service" to mark the holiday.

Coloradans marked the day with marches and parades in Denver and Greeley, and the National Western Stock Show was set to host its annual Martin Luther King Jr. African-American Heritage Rodeo on Monday evening.

In South Carolina, the day was an opportunity for the NAACP to underscore its opposition to a Confederate flag that flies outside the Statehouse. It was moved from atop the Capitol dome in 2000 after protests.

"Take down that flag," the Rev. William Barber, North Carolina NAACP president, told a rally in Columbia.

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