King was supporting striking sanitation workers when he came to Memphis in 1968. He was talking with friends on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel on April 4 when he was struck by a rifle bullet and killed.
Museums, colleges and activists have organized three days of marches, speeches and conferences to remember King and his legacy. His daughter, Bernice King, and Holder toured a new King-centered photo exhibit at the National Civil Rights Museum later Monday. She and her brother, Martin Luther King III, are scheduled to speak Tuesday at the Mason Temple.
“This is a very emotional time for me and my family,” she said.
Holder, the first black U.S. attorney general, spoke at a symposium sponsored by the University of Memphis and the museum. He was introduced by U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, an Alabama Democrat who won a special election in December.
Holder said he is proud that the nation has made progress in the past 50 years achieving racial, social and economic justice. He said women, minorities, students against gun violence and members of the LGBTQ community have been inspired by King’s nonviolent protests and have launched movements calling for “fairness, opportunity and justice.”
But in remarks that appeared to reference Trump without mentioning his name, Holder also noted that King’s dream of equality for all has not been reached.
“We’re still marching, we are still striving, and we’re still calling on our nation’s leaders to act with a sense of justice, compassion and common humanity,” Holder said. “The unfortunate fact is that in 2018, America’s long struggle to overcome injustice, to eliminate disparities and eradicate violence has not yet ended, and the age of bullies and bigots is not fully behind us.”
Holder said he has spoken with young people who feel lost in their own country and are “fearful that America’s too-long-standing divisions are threatening to tear our nation apart.”
Holder said he is concerned with gun violence, the disproportional incarceration of young black men, and uneven educational opportunities for minorities. King’s legacy includes the lesson that “it is necessary to be indignant, and to be impatient, so that it impels us to take action,” Holder said.
Holder said the “chief civil rights issue of our time” is ensuring minorities have equal voting rights.
“In many communities, our political system is far from fair,” said Holder, who chairs the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a group that is pushing back against gerrymandered political districts nationwide. “It’s been undermined by spurious and outright false claims of widespread voter fraud and by acts of voter suppression.”
Holder asked the crowd of hundreds to do more to help realize King’s dream of racial and social equality and come together to “heal this divided nation.”
“As easy as it is, we must not look back to a past that was comforting to too few, and unjust to too many,” Holder said.
Then, in a reference to Trump’s campaign slogan, he added: “That is not how we make America great.”