ATLANTA — State officials celebrated the life of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on Thursday and tied his message to the Arizona shooting tragedy, saying the message of nonviolence espoused by the slain civil rights leader is needed more than ever in today's society.
Gov. Nathan Deal and others remarked on Saturday's tragic events in Arizona as a reminder that King's dream of a nonviolent society has not yet been achieved.
"Dr. King was a man of peace," Deal said during the state's ceremony for King, a Georgia native and winner of the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize. "He lived in a world that resisted his call for justice and often confronted his nonviolence with violence. His message of love, peace, equal justice and tolerance is universal. It is a message that deserves to be repeated through the ages."
House Speaker David Ralston echoed Deal's comments, saying ahead of Monday's federal holiday that the state and the nation should follow King's example of civility in public discourse.
"His deeds truly changed a nation," Ralston said of King to the audience gathered at the Capitol. "We are now in a national discussion about what words mean in our public conversation. Harmful words do harm, and assigning wrongful motives to words also do harm."
Martin Luther King III attended the ceremony along with his wife, Arndrea, and the couple's 2½-year-old daughter, Yolanda — named for King's late sister. King, who heads the center named for his father, said Monday that the holiday has added meaning with the Tuscon, Ariz., shootings that claimed six lives and injured Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
"When incidents occur like what we saw in Arizona, it shows us how much work we must do to create the kind of nation where nonviolence is embraced," King said. "We haven't necessarily achieved the dream of Martin Luther King Jr., but my hope is that we start anew."
The state ceremony honoring King on Thursday ahead of what would have been his 82nd birthday was also attended by lawmakers, constitutional officers and Christine King Farris, the only living sibling to the slain civil rights leader.
Secretary of State Brian Kemp took the occasion to unveil a display featuring the portrait of King in its new and permanent location in the north atrium of the Capitol. Kemp said the portrait, which has hung in the building since 2006, was recently moved to a more prominent and accessible place and includes information about the civil rights movement and King's life.
State Sen. Jason Carter, grandson of the former president and one-time Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter, said the new display was fitting.
"He is as important as anyone in here," said Carter of King, gesturing to the many portraits and sculptures of other notable Georgians lining the Capitol's halls and walls. "The point is to educate people and let people know how important he was. I think my grandfather would be proud."
Former President Carter was part of the effort to place the first portrait of King in the Capitol in the 1970s. King's son posed under the display on Monday and called the new arrangement "providential."
"I think this gives a greater opportunity to more prominently display the life and work of my dad," Martin Luther King III said.
This year marks the 25th federal observance of King's birthday, which is actually Jan. 15.