(CNN/CBSLA) — Fifty years to the day after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, cities across the United States honored him Wednesday with ceremonies and performances, as well as reflections on what today’s civil rights advocates can do to carry forward his legacy.
Solemnity was the order of the evening, when sites across the country rang bells 39 times, symbolizing the civil rights leader’s age at his death. Bells tolled at the time King was shot.
In Los Angeles, religious institutions and school across the city including the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, the African American Museum of Beginnings and All Saints Church joined in commemorating King.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors adjourned Wednesday in memory of King, acting on a motion by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. Ridley traveled to Memphis Wednesday to take part in activities commemorating the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Speakers have been challenging listeners to push for justice and equality, as they expect King would have today.
“If even then, the future — not the past — was what made us a movement, I believe we carry on the King tradition best by focusing on the here and now as King did as he led the civil rights movement,” Eleanor Holmes Norton, Washington’s non-voting delegate to Congress, said just after noon at a wreath-laying ceremony at his memorial near the National Mall.
Some members of King’s family began the morning by taking a similar message to social media and TV audiences.
“The most authentic way to honor my father is to commit to the work of creating a more peaceful, just, humane world,” his youngest child, Bernice King, now 55, tweeted. “Let quotes coincide with conscious efforts to eradicate poverty, militarism and racism (privilege + power = oppressive policies + culture). #MLK50Forward #MLK”
Arndrea King, wife of the slain civil rights leader’s son Martin Luther King III, told CNN she thought her late father-in-law “would be so charged by all of the movements that are underway today,” including efforts to quell gun violence and #MeToo campaigns against abuse of women.
“There are so many people that are on the move doing wonderful work right now, that I can’t help but think that he would be inspired by what we’re seeing around the nation and the world,” she said.
Perhaps the grandest, most sweeping memorial Wednesday is in Memphis, where King was slain while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel.
The daylong tribute there — featuring speeches, videos, and singing and spoken-word performances — is largely being held in the courtyard of the motel, now home to the National Civil Rights Museum.
Some people at the Memphis event held signs reading, “I am a man.” They were reminiscent of the signs carried in 1968 in that city by sanitation workers whose strike King had come to support.
Among those slated to speak there was the Rev. Jesse Jackson, one of only two surviving members of King’s entourage on the day he was shot.
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