"This is not a Black holiday. It's a people's holiday," Marshall County Schools Director Roy Dukes told the mixed audience in prepared and spontaneous remarks for the occasion of the third annual ecumenical service for the slain civil rights leader.
"On this holiday," Dukes said, "We commemorate the universal, unconditional love, forgiveness and nonviolence that empowered his revolutionary spirit."
Garnett Hyde III, 7, of the Meharry Boulevard Church of God in Nashville, son of Valerie and Garnett Hyde Jr., recited two thirds of King's "I Have a Dream" speech first delivered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., in 1963.
Young Garnett attends the Scharder School in Nashville where two other boys recited parts of the speech a year ago.
"We're working on the third part of it now," his proud grandmother, Irene Malone, says. "He loves it."
So did the congregants in the Lewisburg church who swayed to the music of Generations, a gospel group that includes the boy's mother.
"He demonstrates a perfect example on why we are here tonight," Elder Lewis Buchanan, associate minister of the Meharry Boulevard Church of God, said of Garnett Hyde III.
King is an icon of the 1960s and the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace prize.
"We are honoring one of the greatest men who ever lived," said Thomas Rogers, a deacon at a church in Clarksville.
King was compared to the Apostle Paul because of the tests of faith that they faced.
Now, nearly 48 years after that Aug. 28 speech, there are still "some hidden agendas" that stand in the way of realizing the dream, Buchanan said.
"We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities," he said.
Recalling King's teachings, Buchanan said, "It's not about race from an ethnic standpoint... It's a race that we are all in..."
Buchanan also recognized ordinary rights are enjoyed, now: drinking from the same water fountain and eating in the same public dining room. He noted neighborhoods integrated with Mexicans.
"I believe God in heaven is happy tonight," Elder Herbert Johnson, pastor of Greater First Baptist Church, said. "It's good to be in God's house in unity."
The Rev. Orville Nichols, Community Tabernacle in Farmington, said, "I remember the days when you had to go in the back door and I could go in the front."
Statewide leaders issued statements on the national holiday.
* "Nearly 48 years ago, I found a spot at the back of the crowd gathered on the Washington Mall and listened to Dr. King proclaim that even the most righteous of fights must be waged in peace: 'We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline,' he said. 'We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence,'" U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander said. "Today we honor his nonviolent struggle to end racial prejudice, and we continue to strive to be a nation that recognizes all citizens - regardless of race - as equals who deserve the same opportunities to achieve the American dream."
* "Martin Luther King had a tremendous vision of what our country could be," U.S. Senator Bob Corker said. "He also had the courage to stand up and pursue it. He had a bold vision -- a dream he called it -- of human equality. He shared his dream with the rest of us and made sacrifices so that his children and grandchildren would live in a better country than the one he inherited."