The nation celebrated
With major parades in Los Angeles and San Antonio, President
Yet even as the nation remembered how far it has come on racial issues, there were also signs of far it still has to go.
A Gallup poll released Monday found that in the years the nation's first African American president has been office, perceptions on race relations have worsened. In January 2008, when Obama came into office, 51% of respondents said they were satisfied or somewhat satisfied with the state of race relations, Gallup said. In its new poll, taken Jan. 5-8, 30% said they were satisfied with the state of race relations, the steepest decline among seven issues measured by the poll.
“Almost every American alive knows the words 'I have a dream' should be associated with
"For his efforts, the man we honor with a national holiday and a national monument, alongside Washington and Lincoln, was the target of racist insults, bricks, bottles, numerous death threats, a knife in the chest in Harlem in 1958, and finally, an assassin's bullet in Memphis in 1968," Johnson said.
The campaign to create a holiday for King began after the assassination, and in 1983 President Reagan signed the legislation designating the holiday into law. Still, it wasn't until 2000 that all 50 states celebrated the holiday by name.
"The irony of today is that Mrs. King's dream of a national holiday for her husband has become a reality," Johnson said. "Dr. King's dream of a world at peace with itself has not."
In 2013, 27% of African Americans lived in poverty, compared with a 10% rate for white Americans, according to census data collected by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Nearly a third of African American high school students do not graduate on time, double the rate of whites and Asian Americans. The federal government estimates that one in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime.
Perhaps the most glaring racial issue in the last year is the relationship between black communities and white police officers in the wake of the deaths of
Grand juries in both cases decided not to charge the respective officers.
At a King commemoration in Ferguson on Sunday, Rep.
"We need to be outraged when local law enforcement and the justice system repeatedly allow young, unarmed black men to encounter police and then wind up dead with no consequences," Clay said. "Not just in Ferguson, but over and over again across this country."
Clay was joined by eight members of the Congressional Black Caucus at the commemoration.
Caucus Chairman Rep.
"There's no reason on Earth we cannot repair the breach that we've recently seen between law enforcement and minority communities," he said at the annual Organization of Minority Women breakfast.
Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama marked the holiday with community service at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington. The organization helps youngsters develop the skills they need to become responsible adults.
In a proclamation issued last week, the president said the U.S. has made "undeniable progress" since King agitated for justice and equality for all, but that securing those gains requires "constant vigilance, not complacency."
He called on Americans to stand together for good jobs, fair wages, safe neighborhoods and quality education -- themes he is expected to sound in his
At Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where King held the pulpit, the 47th Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Service took place with dignitaries and members of King's family attending.
"The memory of such a great man can never, ever fade," Lewis said. "I still think about him almost every day."