The widow of Martin Luther King Jr. opened the annual King Day ecumenical service in the historic sanctuary of Ebenezer Baptist Church by reviewing the accomplishments of ``America's greatest champion of racial justice and equality.''
King, who would have turned 72 on Monday, endured threats and beatings and was jailed 39 times during his fight for racial equality and kept on fighting even though he knew he would pay ``the ultimate price'' for his leadership of the civil rights movement, she said.
She called on King's followers to ``get involved in helping to build the beloved community of his dream'' by supporting affirmative action for minorities in job and school placement, supporting gun control, opposing the death penalty, opposing racial profiling by police, living a nonviolent life and urging Congress to write off the debts of African nations.
``Make your personal commitment to serve humanity with the vibrant spirit of unconditional love that was his greatest strength,'' she said.
The historic sanctuary, where King and his father both preached, was packed for the annual service. Among those attending were Gov. Roy Barnes, Sen. Max Cleland and former Republican vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp.
Dozens of visitors from out of town also filled the pews. Jocolby Harrell, 18, of Raleigh, N.C., said he has been coming to Atlanta with his family for the King holiday since he was a child.
President-elect George W. Bush was marking the day at an elementary school in Houston with Rod Paige, his nominee for education secretary.
Bush planned to address ``the powerful and important role that Martin Luther King played in changing America,'' spokesman Ari Fleischer said. Bush also was highlighting the education proposals of his upcoming administration.
President Bill Clinton joined 90 Americorps members in repairing and painting the Greenleaf Senior Center in Washington, his fourth year of participating in a community service project on the King holiday.
Later in the day, Clinton was to speak at the University of the District of Columbia, where he planned to call on Americans of all races to unite together through community service.
In Columbia, S.C., hundreds of people gathered for a rally to oppose the presence of the Confederate flag on the grounds of the state capitol. Although the flag has been removed from the capitol dome, its presence on the grounds overshadowed South Carolina's first celebration of a regular King Day holiday for state workers, said Dwight James, an offical of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
``That flag is one of those symbols that divides us,'' he said.