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Admirers Gather At Memorial For Dr. King's Birthday

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Some Americans took time out from football yesterday to drop by the new memorial in Washington, D.C., to Martin Luther King. It was King's birthday, which we formally observe on this Monday. On his actual birthday, his family and admirers turned out to talk about his legacy.

NPR's Allison Keyes was there.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONVERSATIONS)

ALLISON KEYES, BYLINE: Under a bright blue sky, the Porter family stood at the base of the image of King, smiling; their purple Baltimore Ravens paraphernalia resplendent in the sun.

VALENCIA HERNANDEZ PORTER: It means so much to us because it's us.

KEYES: Valencia Hernandez Porter brought her whole family, partly for the birthday her daughter shares with King. Partly, she says, because her mother marched with him in 1962.

V. PORTER: I just want my children to know what it means...to be free in a country that's for everybody, regardless of your race and your creed.

KEYES: Porter's mother, Grace Hernandez, was proud and excited when she heard they were going to build the memorial here. She'd been wanting to come see it because she remembers having the chance to speak with King when she marched with him in Durham, North Carolina.

GRACE HERNANDEZ: I thought he was very learned and very patient. And he just set such an excellent example for people.

KEYES: Her granddaughter, Meagan Porter, was celebrating her 9th birthday, and said she didn't think her future would have been as bright without King's work.

MEAGAN PORTER: He was trying to make a difference in our country, for everyone to have rights.

KEYES: Her mom added...

V. PORTER: It's the measure of the man that made it all possible for what our country stands for today; for all people to be treated equal and treated fairly, and be loved and accepted for their beliefs and their thoughts.

(SOUNDBITE OF A CROWD SINGING, "HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YA")

KEYES: The grinning crowd burst into an impromptu rendition of Stevie Wonder's version of "Happy Birthday," which he wrote to honor the human rights activist. People snapped pictures as two wreaths were placed in front of the monument. King's eldest son, Martin Luther King III, was there with his wife and his three-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Yolanda Renee.

YOLANDA RENEE KING: Happy Birthday, Papa King.

KEYES: King told the crowd he remembered that on his father's last birthday in 1968, he was planning a poor people's campaign to bring together people of all races, to demand decent jobs with decent pay.

MARTIN LUTHER KING III: It only takes a few good women and men to bring about change - and children and families, I should say as well.

MIRIAM TRAVERS: It takes us citizens to make a change.

KEYES: Miriam Travers and Charles Boyd came from Delaware for the ceremony, and Travers is determined to help keep King's memory alive.

TRAVERS: If we sit back and do nothing then nothing will happen.

KEYES: Boyd notes that King's legacy is for everyone. And even though his dream of equality hasn't been entirely fulfilled...

CHARLES BOYD: We've got a long way to go. But I feel honored and blessed to be here.

KEYES: The couple says people should honor Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday by performing some type of service, and helping to perpetuate change.

Allison Keyes, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YA")

INSKEEP: On the Martin Luther King Holiday, it's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Allison Keyes is an award-winning journalist with almost 20 years of experience in print, radio, and television. She has been reporting for NPR's national desk since October 2005. Her reports can be heard on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition Sunday.