Acts of service, government shutdown themes of Martin Luther King holiday

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Americans around the nation marked Martin Luther King Jr. Day Monday, the official holiday honoring the life and legacy of the civil rights leader. And while many came together to perform acts of service, disunity amid the government shutdown was also a prevalent theme.

Locally, more than 600 volunteers visited Food Bank For New York City's facilities to prep, cook, serve and distribute 1,500 meals for the Harlem and Bronx communities. Volunteers also prepared and repacked food items to be distributed across the five boroughs to families impacted by the shutdown.

The annual Day of Service took place at Food Bank For New York City's two main facilities -- the Community Kitchen & Food Pantry in West Harlem and the warehouse in the South Bronx.

Both facilities are in areas that face some of the highest rates of food insecurity in all of New York City.

Related: Remembering Martin Luther King Jr. with his own powerful words

President Donald Trump paid a brief visit to the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in Washington, joined by Vice President Mike Pence on a frigid and windy day. The two laid a wreath at the foot of the memorial, then held a brief moment of silence.
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Dave Evans has the latest on the political events held on MLK Day.

Trump told reporters as he departed that it was a "great day" and a "beautiful day," but did not respond to questions about the partial government shutdown, now in its 31st day.

The visit lasted less than two minutes.

Trump had been criticized earlier in the day by the Rev. Al Sharpton, who said it was "an insult to the American people" that the White House was not commemorating the holiday with an event.

The president's memorial visit had not been listed on his public schedule, and reporters traveling with him were not informed of Trump's destination until they arrived.

Trump tweeted earlier: "Today we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for standing up for the self-evident truth Americans hold so dear, that no matter what the color of our skin or the place of our birth, we are all created equal by God."

Listen: 1st version of MLK's 'I Have A Dream' speech delivered in high school gym

In Atlanta, a commemorative service King that was nearly imperiled by the federal government shutdown was held Monday morning at a church called King's "spiritual home." King's daughter, Rev. Bernice King, said in her remarks that the annual service at Ebenezer Baptist Church came during a moment of crisis in America, while condemning gridlock and partisanship in Washington that led to the shutdown.

"Our humanity is literally on the verge of digressing to two Americas and becoming the dis-United State of America," she said.

King also slammed what she called "the powerful resurgence of nationalistic and white supremacist ideologies" around the world.

The event was attended by Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue, Democratic Congresswoman Lucy McBath and Emma Gonzalez, a survivor of the mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Florida in February.

Perdue, who is white, recounted growing up in Georgia during segregation and praised King as an inspiring leader who changed the world through courage.

"He gave us hope during some of this country's darkest days," Perdue said of King. "Our country has overcome a lot, but there is much left to be done."

Ebenezer Church's current pastor, Rev. Raphael G. Warnock, also took aim at the government shutdown, calling this "a time of narrow vision and petty politicians."

Gonzalez sat just behind the speaker's podium throughout much of the televised and livestreamed service, a highly visible position for the high school student turned gun-control activist. She said that King had paved the wave for future generations of peaceful protests.

The annual service at Ebenezer Baptist was in doubt until Delta Air Lines gave the National Park Service a grant to reopen the site. Delta is headquartered in Atlanta.

In a statement posted to LinkedIn, Delta CEO Ed Bastian said the grant would keep the sites open from Jan. 19 to Feb. 3, the day of the upcoming Super Bowl game in Atlanta.

"These historic landmarks represent the strength of our community and should always be made available for the public to enjoy," Bastian said.

The church is part of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park located in the "Sweet Auburn" district of downtown Atlanta. The civil rights leader was co-pastor with his father at the church from 1960 until his assassination in 1968.

The celebration took on special significance as Jan. 15 marked what would have been King's 90th birthday.

Meanwhile, Democratic presidential hopefuls fanned out across the country to honor the civil rights leader and make themselves heard on the national stage.

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., used the holiday to launch a presidential campaign that, if successful, would make her the first woman and the second black candidate to become president.

South Carolina, a critical early-voting state in the Democratic primary, hosted two senators expected to seek the White House in 2020: Cory Booker of New Jersey and Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

In the nation's capital, two possible 2020 contenders, former Vice President Joe Biden and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke at a breakfast celebrating King's life that was held by the Rev. Al Sharpton.

Two candidates who have already opened exploratory committees -- Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York -- were also appearing at King-centered events.

While the Democratic field for 2020 is only beginning to take shape, the year that would have marked King's 90th birthday gives the party's prominent members a valuable opportunity to address race and, potentially, draw a contrast between their own views and those of President Donald Trump, whose approach to questions of racial justice has sparked criticism from multiple minority groups since he took office.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

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