ATLANTA – President Barack Obama plans to use a Bible that belonged to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as he takes his oath of office on the holiday honoring the slain icon, marking what some say is an inextricable tie between the nation’s first black president and the civil rights movement.
It’s only the second time Inauguration Day has coincided with the King holiday. Some say it’s only fitting the celebrations are intertwined.
“It’s almost like fate and history coming together,” said U.S. Rep. John Lewis, who worked alongside King in the fight for civil rights during the 1950s and ’60s and plans to attend the inauguration. “If it hadn’t been for Martin Luther King Jr., there would be no Barack Obama as president.”
Some King commemorations have been shuffled around to accommodate the inauguration, though others are going on as planned.
King’s youngest daughter, Bernice King, plans to attend the observance of her father’s memory at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where he preached, and said she doesn’t fear the inauguration will overshadow the celebration.
“I think it enhances the observance, actually, because it heightens people’s awareness about the King holiday,” she said. “I also think it gives some sort of validation to the significant work that my father made to this country, to this world, in fact.”
The only other time a presidential inauguration has fallen on the King holiday was in 1997 at the start of President Bill Clinton’s second term. Clinton invoked King’s memory in his inaugural address, and events were planned throughout the inauguration weekend to commemorate King.
“Thirty-four years ago, the man whose life we celebrate today spoke to us down there at the other end of this Mall in words that moved the conscience of a nation. Like a prophet of old, he told of his dream that one day America would rise up and treat all its citizens as equals before the law and in the heart,” Clinton said in his address. “Martin Luther King’s dream was the American dream.”
Obama plans to incorporate the legacy of the civil rights movement into his inauguration. Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of slain civil rights activist Medgar Evers, is slated to deliver the invocation.
The president also plans to take the oath of office for his second term with his hand on two Bibles, one owned by King and one by Abraham Lincoln. As he takes the oath, Obama will be facing the Lincoln Memorial, where King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech 50 years ago this August.
Having the president call for her father’s Bible was a special moment, Bernice King said.
“What a significant honor,” she said. “To me, it’s like another elevation for my father.”
Obama also plans to honor King throughout his inaugural weekend, beginning by asking Americans to volunteer in their communities on Saturday to honor the civil right leader’s legacy of service. Inaugural planners also say there will be a float honoring King in the parade to the White House after the swearing-in ceremony.
In Washington and Baltimore, however, annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day parades have been moved to avoid conflicting with the inauguration. The Baltimore parade, typically a major event in the majority-black city, will be held today.
The parade along Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in southeast Washington has been moved to April 20, the 50-year anniversary of King’s release from a Birmingham, Ala., jail.
In Montgomery, Ala., where King did some of his early civil rights work while pastor at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, the annual parade and rally at the state Capitol are to be held as normal Monday, though some prominent black politicians will miss it because they’ll be at the inauguration.
The National Civil Rights Museum – the site of the Memphis motel where King was fatally shot on a balcony on April 4, 1968 – is hosting a food drive and blood drive, and touring a new exhibit focused on African-American women in the civil rights movement. However, much of the facility is closed for renovations, and it will not host an inauguration watch party.
Bernice King, who is also president and CEO of The King Center, which is dedicated to preserving and promoting her father’s legacy, said she’s not worried about the inauguration drawing people away from the annual celebration at Ebenezer Baptist Church, which will include watching the inauguration on a big screen after the service.
“Everybody can’t go to the inauguration,” she said. “Part two of our service is this inaugural watch party, so hopefully people will not stay home, but they will come and be in an environment of other people who feel good about this moment in history. It’s just going to be a great day.”