The King Day rally in South Carolina took place in the shadow of Saturday's Republican presidential primary. State NAACP President Lonnie Randolph said people should vote any time they can, but said his group is nonpartisan. He said officials wouldn't encourage its members — a generally Democratic voting bloc — to disrupt the GOP's process of choosing its nominee because "we don't do the mean things."
Jealous made one of the few references to the GOP field during Monday's rally, saying he was tired of attacks on the movement, such as cuts to education funding.
"And I'm real tired of dealing with so-called leaders who talk out of one side of their mouth about celebrating the legacy of Dr. King and then do so much out the other side of their mouth to block everything the man stood, fought and died for," Jealous said.
The King Day rally in South Carolina was first held in 2000 to call for the Confederate flag to come down off the capitol dome, and has continued after state leaders decided instead to place the flag on a 30-foot pole on the Statehouse lawn near a monument to Confederate soldiers.
The flag was mentioned Monday — North Carolina NAACP president the Rev. William Barber called it a "terrible, terroristic banner" — but it was not the focus.
The Confederate flag and voter ID laws are all examples of how blacks cannot stop fighting for civil rights, said 39-year-old Llewlyn Walters of Columbia, whose grandmother watched King speak and whose mother told him stories of the civil rights movement as he grew up.
"People's hearts and minds change, but then they forget. The movement was great, but that one single generation couldn't stop all the discrimination in this country any more than one single dose of antibiotic can fight a disease," Walters said.
In Washington, President Barack Obama and his family commemorated the day by helping to build bookshelves in a local school's library. The president said there was no better way to celebrate King's life than to spend the day helping others.
Obama's attorney general ended his speech on a positive note, saying Americans can't forget the progress this nation has made. After all, the nation elected a black president just 40 years after King was assassinated.
"In the spirit of Dr. King, let us signal to the world that, in America today, the pursuit of a more perfect union lives on," Holder said. "The march toward the Promised Land goes on, and the belief not merely that we shall overcome, but that, as a nation, we will all come together, continues to push us forward."
Associated Press writers Jessica Gresko in Washington and Errin Haines in Atlanta contributed to this report.
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