Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations honor legacy, memories

Spectators are expected to flock to the MLK Jr. Memorial near the National Mall all day, (Photo: ABC7)

Across D.C. and the nation, Americans took pause Monday to celebrate one of the United States' most revered civil rights leaders.

Several events took place across Washington to celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; it was also the first time his holiday was honored since his memorial was dedicated last fall.

Celebrations got off to an early start on Sunday when King's family made a visit to the monument that honors his life and work.

"The fact that we have gotten here makes this extraordinarily special for me and my family," Martin Luther King III said Sunday on the National Mall.

Later Monday, a wreath-laying ceremony was held near the MLK Jr. Memorial.

Celebratory music and dance filled the air in Southeast as city leaders, including the mayor, joined children in the Martin Luther King Jr. parade, the first in 8 years.

A sea of spectators flocked to the memorial all day long.

Obamas participated in Day of Service

President Barack Obama and his family marked Martin Luther King, Jr. Day with a volunteer service project at a local school.

The Obamas joined other volunteers Monday morning at the Browne Education Campus in the District of Columbia.

After greeting volunteers, the president and his family helped build bookshelves in the school's library.

This is the third year in a row the Obamas have participated in a service project on King's holiday. In brief remarks Monday, the president said there is no better way to celebrate King's life than to spend the day helping others.

Monday also marks the first King holiday where visitors can celebrate King at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, which was dedicated last year.

The new memorial, which opened in August, celebrates the ideals King espoused. Quotations from his speeches and writings conjure memories of his message, and a 30-foot-tall sculpture depicts King emerging as a "stone of hope" from a "mountain of despair," a design inspired by a line of his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.

But a quote inscribed in stone on the new Martin Luther King memorial will likely be changed after complaints it didn't accurately reflect the civil rights leader's words.

The Washington Post first reported the news Friday.

The King memorial opened to the public in August, but a controversy arose over words inscribed on the memorial: "I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness."

The phrase is modified from a speech King gave shortly before his 1968 assassination.

In the original, King starts by saying, "Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice," then adds similar language about peace and righteousness.

Poet Maya Angelou said the truncated version made King sound like "an arrogant twit."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.