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Delta Air Lines Pays To Keep Martin Luther King Jr. National Park Open For Holiday

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Today, Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta held a special service to commemorate the life of Martin Luther King Jr. The civil rights leader would have been 90 this year. Ebenezer was his home church. As Emma Hurt of member station WABE in Atlanta reports, 50 years after his death, King's legacy there is alive and relevant.

EMMA HURT, BYLINE: Atlanta native Giana Davis has come to the commemorative service many times at Ebenezer Baptist Church, but she doesn't come just to hear about the past.

GIANA DAVIS: With everything going on in the world, I needed to be here.

HURT: She says every year on this holiday, she reflects on what's important in life.

DAVIS: Thank God that we had at least him, where - I don't think he'll ever die. Even if nobody else comes to replace him, we always can come back to Dr. King.

HURT: While King died in 1968, there's no need to read his biography at this service. Everyone in the room already knows it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I feel the spirit of the Lord in this room. Lift your hands all in the sanctuary if you love him today.

HURT: The service instead focuses on the values King upheld, like unity, and applying them to the present day.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BERNICE KING: We can try to build a wall to physically separate ourselves from others, but walls do not negate our interconnectedness.

HURT: That's King's daughter, Bernice, the CEO of the King Center in Atlanta. She hit on another news headline, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KING: And when a government shutdown persists to the point that it affects the livelihood of individuals and those in dire need of critical social services, this is a humanitarian crisis, and we are all in a state of emergency.

HURT: Other speakers included different faith leaders, Georgia Congresswoman Lucy McBath, Emma Gonzalez, the activist from Parkland, Fla., and Senator David Perdue. Perdue is known for his close association with the president, but his remarks about King steered clear of politics.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DAVID PERDUE: Though we may talk differently, look different and have different political views, he would remind us we are at first and last one nation under God.

HURT: It was the same point that Bernice King emphasized.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KING: It's time to stop merely praising King with platitudes and pleasantries. Now is the time to start embracing his vision of humanity tied in a single garment of destiny.

HURT: Raphael Warnock, the pastor of Ebenezer, put it a different way with a metaphor about birds.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RAPHAEL WARNOCK: Geese fly together. Some are on the left, and others are on the right. But they don't decide to stop flying and shut the whole geese government down.

HURT: That shutdown hit this corner of Atlanta, too. King's birth home and the original Ebenezer Baptist Church nearby are operated by the National Park Service. If not for a last-minute donation from Delta Airlines, they would have been closed today. For NPR News, I'm Emma Hurt in Atlanta.

CORNISH: And we should note that Delta Airlines is a financial supporter of NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: January 22, 2019 at 12:00 AM EST
An earlier version of this story incorrectly described Emma Gonzalez as a gun rights activist. In fact, Gonzalez was a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High at the time of the 2018 shooting, and she is a gun control advocate.

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