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Martin Luther King anniversary sparks thousands to take place in marches, speeches

Click to play video 'Martin Luther King Jr. and his killer’s shocking ties to Canada' Martin Luther King Jr. and his killer’s shocking ties to Canada
Wed, Apr 4: As the world remembers the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. left on the 50th anniversary of his assassination, many Canadians may not realize the ties the civil rights leader and his killer had to Canada – Apr 4, 2018

Fifty years after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, the civil rights leader’s family and admirers will mark the anniversary of his death with marches, speeches and quiet reflection on Wednesday.

The commemorations stretch from his hometown of Atlanta to Memphis, where he died, and points beyond. Among the first events is a march led by the same sanitation workers union whose low pay King had come to protest when he was shot. Another event will kick off about the same time in Atlanta, where King’s daughter the Rev. Bernice A. King is moderating an awards ceremony in his honour.

READ MORE: Teens begin Mississippi-to-Tennessee march to pay tribute to Martin Luther King Jr.

The Memphis events are scheduled to feature King’s contemporaries, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Rev. Al Sharpton and U.S. Rep. John Lewis, along with celebrities such as the rapper Common. In the evening, the Atlanta events culminate with a bell-ringing and wreath-laying at his crypt to mark the moment when he was gunned down on the balcony of the old Lorraine Motel on April 4, 1968. He was 39.

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Wednesday’s events followed a rousing celebration the night before of King’s “I’ve Been To the Mountaintop” speech at Memphis’ Mason Temple Church of God in Christ. He delivered this speech the night before he was assassinated.

WATCH: Martin Luther King Junior’s family lays wreath at tomb, rings bell for his life on 50th anniversary

Click to play video 'Martin Luther King Junior’s family lays wreath at tomb, rings bell for his life on 50th anniversary' Martin Luther King Junior’s family lays wreath at tomb, rings bell for his life on 50th anniversary
Martin Luther King Junior’s family lays wreath at tomb, rings bell for his life on 50th anniversary – Apr 4, 2018

Inside the church, Bernice King called her older brother, Martin Luther King III, to join her in the pulpit, and she discussed the difficulty of publicly mourning their father – a man hated during his lifetime, now beloved around the world.

“It’s important to see two of the children who lost their daddy 50 years ago to an assassin’s bullet,” said Bernice King, now 55. “But we kept going. Keep all of us in prayer as we continue the grieving process for a parent that we’ve had yet to bury.”

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WATCH: Timeline of MLK’s life reveals great legacy in fight for civil rights

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MLK timeline: Civil rights leader’s legacy honoured on 50th anniversary of his death – Apr 4, 2018

The anniversary coincides with a resurgence of white supremacy, the continued shootings of unarmed black men and a parade of discouraging statistics on the lack of progress among black Americans on issues from housing to education to wealth. But rather than despair, the resounding message repeated at the church was one of resilience, resolve, and a renewed commitment to King’s legacy and unfinished work.

A gospel singer led a rousing rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and the gathering took on the air of a mass meeting.

READ MORE: Ram’s Super Bowl commercial using Martin Luther King speech prompts backlash

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Lee Saunders, a national labour leader, recounted how on that night in 1968, King made an unplanned appearance to deliver the famous speech without notes after his aides saw how passionate the crowd was: “There was one man they wanted to hear from.”

But Saunders stressed that the purpose of the week’s commemorations was not just to look to the past.

WATCH: 50 years after MLK’s death, are race relations better?

Click to play video '50 years after MLK’s death, are race relations better?' 50 years after MLK’s death, are race relations better?
50 years after MLK’s death, are race relations better? – Apr 4, 2018

“Dr. King’s work – our work – isn’t done. We must still struggle; we must still sacrifice. We must still educate and organize and mobilize. That’s why we’re here in Memphis. Not just to honour our history, but to seize our future,” he said.

Former President Barack Obama spoke in a video, saying “as long as we’re still trying, Dr. King’s soul is still rejoicing.”

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WATCH: Barack Obama pays tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. on 50th anniversary of death

Click to play video 'Barack Obama pays tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. on 50th anniversary of assassination' Barack Obama pays tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. on 50th anniversary of assassination
Barack Obama pays tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. on 50th anniversary of assassination – Apr 4, 2018

Some of the sanitation workers who participated with King in a 1968 strike sat in the front row and were treated like celebrities, with audience members stopping to take photos with them before the event started.

The commemoration of the “Mountaintop” speech followed an announcement earlier in the day by civil rights leaders who are reviving an economic justice campaign first planned by King. The organizers of a new Poor People’s Campaign are planning 40 days of marches, sit-ins and other peaceful protests.

WATCH: Martin Luther King Jr. remembered on 50th anniversary of assassination

Click to play video 'Martin Luther King Jr. remembered on 50th anniversary of assassination' Martin Luther King Jr. remembered on 50th anniversary of assassination
Martin Luther King Jr. remembered on 50th anniversary of assassination – Apr 4, 2018

“This first 40 days is not the end; it’s the launch,” said the Rev. William Barber of North Carolina, one of the co-chairs of the revived campaign. “You will see simultaneous moral direct action. You will see simultaneous training of people to prepare for a season of massive voter mobilization.”

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WATCH: Memphis prepares for thousands of visitors to commemorate 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s death

Click to play video 'Memphis prepares for thousands of visitors to commemorate 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s death' Memphis prepares for thousands of visitors to commemorate 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s death
Memphis prepares for thousands of visitors to commemorate 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s death – Mar 31, 2018

Starting May 14, clergy, union members and other activists will take part in the events in about 30 states, targeting Congress and state legislatures. Then, on June 23, organizers plan a large rally in Washington – similar to what King had envisioned. The original Poor People’s Campaign was carried out in 1968 after King’s death by other civil rights leaders.