Local and national politicians paid tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday’s federal holiday honoring the iconic civil rights leader, vowing to carry out his legacy with public policy.
During the city’s annual Brooklyn Academy of Music event, Eric Adams, the Big Apple’s second black mayor, spoke about his pre-inaugural trip to Ghana, where he powerfully recounted seeing dungeons at a former slave trading post where Africans endured torturous conditions before being “ripped apart from their families.”
“I heard over and over again how hard it is to be the mayor of the city of New York. And I said: No, hard is living in that dungeon. Hard is watching your wife or your mother have the baby ripped from their stomach to send a message,” Adams said Monday morning.
“Hard is working in the fields all night just to deliver your child and go right back and work again. Hard is kick in the cabin door and sodomize and rape your children and have you still stay on that plantation,” he went on. “Hard is building America, only to watch yourself relegated to a position that you will never participate in the prosperity that this country has to offer. That’s hard.”
Adams vowed to be “King-like” by reducing educational, housing and gun violence-related injustices facing New Yorkers, and declared he will have “failed” as a mayor if he is unable to do so.
“If I am just the second African-American mayor of the city of New York and I fail to stop the systemic problems we have been facing — then I have failed that journey I took in Ghana. I failed those [who] laid the path for me to be here,” Hizzoner told the crowd. “I’m committed and dedicated to getting this job done.”
At the same event, Gov. Kathy Hochul said of MLK, “All of us must carry on his work, even decades later, because the work is not finished. The work is far from finished.”
“So when we look at that mountain top in the distance, the one that Dr. King spoke of, but never got there himself, I’m saying, my friends, let’s pack up,” the governor went on later in her address.
“Let’s put on our hiking boots, get your backpacks ready, because we’re going to that mountain top together and we’ll leave this place, the place that Dr. King envisioned in 1968, when he called on us to think about the possibilities.”
Meanwhile, Vice President Kamala Harris delivered virtual remarks from Washington, DC, to a congregation in Atlanta, Georgia, praising King as a “prophet” before saying his teachings bolster the case for Democrats’ sweeping election reforms.
“It is time for the United States Senate to do its job,” she told congregants at Ebenezer Baptist Church. “Today we must not be complacent or complicit. We must not give up, and we must not give in. To truly honor the legacy of the man we celebrate today, we must continue to fight for the freedom to vote, for freedom for all.”
U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, Georgia’s first black senator, in a speech to the crowd at Ebenezer, where he’s a pastor, declared, “If you will speak [King’s] name you have to stand up for voting rights, you have to stand up on behalf of the poor and the oppressed and the disenfranchised.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) reiterated her calls for Senate Democrats to bypass the filibuster to pass the sweeping voting rights package, arguing the requirement to uphold the legislative tool is “not in the Constitution,” indirectly taking a swing at moderate Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) for their assertion they do not support a carve out to the 60–vote threshold to pass the election reforms.
Pelosi alleged that Republican pushback on the bills and red states’ implementation of stricter election laws is an attempt to “suppress the vote,” noting that despite the change to the filibuster may not have the votes, but every Senate Democrat supports the voting rights legislation.
“If you really truly want to honor Dr. King, don’t dishonor him by using a congressional custom as an excuse for protecting our democracy,” she said during a press conference at Union Station.
President Biden, who did not make a public appearance as of early Monday afternoon, expressed a similar message in a prepared video tweeted from his account.
“Dr. King wasn’t just a dreamer; he was a doer,” said Biden. “And on this federal holiday that honors him, it’s not just enough to praise him, we must commit to his unfinished work, to deliver jobs and justice, to protect the sacred right to vote.”
But Martin Luther King III, the civil rights icon’s oldest son, ripped Biden and Congress for not yet passing voting rights legislation.
“You were successful with infrastructure, which is a great thing, but we need you to use that same energy to ensure that all Americans have the same unencumbered right to vote,” Martin Luther King III said.
His comments came as the family of the slain civil rights leader and their supporters marched in Washington on Monday as they demanded the passage of a law to protect voters from racial discrimination.
Earlier, ex-President Barack Obama on Twitter shared a photo of King’s granddaughter looking at a bust of MLK in the Oval Office while adding his voice to those calling for the passage of election reform legislation.
“With the King family marching today, we remember that the fight for voting rights takes perseverance,” Obama said. “As Dr. King said, ‘There are no broad highways to lead us easily and inevitably to quick solutions. We must keep going.’ May we honor his memory through action forged in faith.”
Saturday would have been King’s 93rd birthday if he were alive. Monday’s events marked the 36th annual holiday dedicated to King.
Additional reporting by Steven Nelson and Bernadette Hogan