‘America Is Already Great. If You Had The Benefit Of 244 Years Of Free Labor, You’d Be Great Too’

It’s a testament to the influence of the late civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 50 years after his assassination, many who had braved the cold to pay homage to King had to be turned away from the doors of Ebenezer Baptist Church Monday. It was a capacity crowd that turned out for the Ecumenical Service, in remembrance of the slain icon on MLK Day. It was the celebration of Dr. King’s 89th birthday, the 50th annual birthday program. The Horizon Sanctuary of the church seats 2,000.

The balcony of Ebenezer Baptist Church was filled during the 2018 Ecumenical Service in Remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Credit: Maria Boynton/Entercom Atlanta)


Cedric Jones of Mableton stood across from the church with his family. “I wanted to make sure that my daughter understands the legacy and the historic background of this historic day.” Georgia State Representative Dewey McClain, from Lawrenceville, said it was important to be in attendance “because it’s all about history…and we still have a long way to go.”

Inside Ebenezer, its Pastor, Dr. Raphael Warnock, railed against the Trump Administration, as HUD Secretary Ben Carson sat stoically on the dais. Referring to Trump reportedly calling Haiti, El Salvador, and African countries “sh- – hole” places, Warnock called it “a volcanic eruption of hate speech.” In reference to Trump honoring the memory of Dr. King with a proclamation, Warnock said “a proclamation without an apology is hipocracy. It makes a mockery of the man we remember. Mr. Trump, you need to repent.” Warnock called it “consistent with what we have seen and heard. This is not new, it’s just a new low.” Warnock asked if this is how the Administration proposes to “make America great again?” Warnock adding, “I submit that America is already great. If you had the benefit of 244 years of free labor, you’d be great too.” That remark was greeted by thunderous applause.

When Carson brought greetings, “to celebrate the life and legacy of a great man”, he said he marveled at the thousands of people “who were willing to put it on the line to take the moral high-ground and to change the nature of our nation.” Carson said it made a big difference in his life. “I marveled at how Dr. King, in the face of such cruelty and hatred, could advocate love and peace.” Carson, a member of the Trump Administration, also said “I don’t agree with the President about everything that he says, or of how it’s said.” Carson adding, “I don’t even agree with everything that I’ve said. If the way you say things is so inflammatory, that people can’t hear your message, it’s not helpful.”

The New Hope Pathfinders Club Flag Bearers prepare for the presentation of flags of the nations portion of the King service at Ebenezer Baptist Church. (Credit: Maria Boynton/Entercom Atlanta)


Newly-elected Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said “Dr. King wanted us to be first in love, first in moral excellence, he wanted us to be first in generosity.” Bottoms went on to say, “We can not conform to leadership that serves the dreams and aspirations of some, while leaving too many on the sidelines.” Bottoms added that, “while the City of Atlanta is on strong financial footing, and may no longer be broke, we are still broken in too many places.” She pledged to recommit the City of Atlanta to “bridging the gaps of affordability, and equity and all of the other things that threaten to leave our communities behind.”

King Center CEO Dr. Bernice King, the youngest child of the civil rights leader and Mrs. Coretta Scott King, was the keynote speaker. She said, “we must have the right spirit and must connect with the movement that changed people and changed systems.” King added, “we’re moving people in and out of office because no matter who is in the White House, no matter who is in the State House, no matter who is in City Hall, if we don’t have the right spirit and character to tackle these issues all we’re doing is moving players on the board. God is calling for a revolution in this new year of values.”

It was a spirit-filled service too, as Ayana Gregory, daughter of late civil rights activist and comedian Dick Gregory, sang a medley of spirituals; and gospel artist Dottie Peoples brought the audience to its feet with her very popular song “He’s An On Time God.”

This site uses cookies, tokens, and other third party scripts to recognize visitors of our sites and services, remember your settings and privacy choices, and — depending on your settings and privacy choices — enable us and some key partners to collect information about you so that we can improve our services and deliver relevant ads.

By continuing to use our site or clicking Agree, you agree that CBS and our key partners may collect data and use cookies for personalized ads and other purposes, as described more fully in our privacy policy. You can change your settings at any time by clicking Manage Settings.