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US Observes Martin Luther King Jr. Day

  • VOA News

FILE - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaks to residents at the Robert Taylor Homes on Chicago's South Side, July 24, 1965.

FILE - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaks to residents at the Robert Taylor Homes on Chicago's South Side, July 24, 1965.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Americans across the country are engaging in community service projects Monday on the national holiday marking the birthday of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

The president and first lady Michelle Obama are volunteering at a Boys & Girls Club in Washington. Other Obama administration officials are fanning out across the country to take part in educational, anti-poverty, environmental and arts programs.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden spoke Monday at a breakfast honoring King and said communities and police departments need to build trust. He said there is no reason the breach between minority communities and law enforcement cannot be repaired.

King legacy

Martin Luther King Jr. first rose to prominence in 1955 when he led a successful boycott of the public buses in the southern city of Montgomery, Alabama, forcing the city to end its practice of segregating black passengers.

He became the central figure of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and '60s, inspiring millions with his famous "I Have a Dream" speech during the 1963 March on Washington.

Oprah Winfrey locks arms with David Oyelowo, left, who portrays Martin Luther King Jr. in the movie "Selma," Ava DuVernay, the director of "Selma" and rapper Common, far left, as they march to the Edmund Pettus Bridge in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., i

Oprah Winfrey locks arms with David Oyelowo, left, who portrays Martin Luther King Jr. in the movie "Selma," Ava DuVernay, the director of "Selma" and rapper Common, far left, as they march to the Edmund Pettus Bridge in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., i

Selma protest

Television star Oprah Winfrey marked the holiday a day early. She led a march in Selma, Alabama, to commemorate where police clubbed and bloodied civil rights protesters in 1965 as King led demonstrators in their effort to win full voting rights.

"This is what I know for sure: everybody who crossed that bridge on Bloody Sunday and then had the courage to get up and go again on Tuesday and then do the final march - every single person who was on that bridge is a hero," Winfrey said.

Civil rights bill

King received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, the same year a landmark civil rights bill was signed by President Lyndon Johnson.

He was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee, where he had traveled to assist striking black garbage workers who were seeking equal pay.

The holiday was created in 1983 when President Ronald Reagan signed a bill designating the third Monday in January to honor King, who was born on January 15, 1929. Congress designated the King holiday as a national day of service in 1994, a move aimed at encouraging Americans to take part in community projects.

MTV special

In honor of King, cable television's MTV is airing its programming Monday in black and white for twelve hours to encourage viewers to have conversations with their friends and family about race. The monochrome broadcast is a first in the youth-oriented channel's 34-year history.

MTV programming on Monday will include reflections on race from entertainers and public officials.

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