King's words again filled the pews and pulpits at black churches across the country on the eve of the federal observance of what would've been his 80th birthday. Only this time, they found new weight with Barack Obama's pending inauguration as the nation's first black president.
Many black preachers touted the moment -- the 23rd federal observance of King's birthday falls on the eve of the inauguration -- as a mark of America's progress toward a racially just society. Black worshippers sang "We Shall Overcome" and prayed to protect Obama's family and to help the country follow Obama's leadership.
At Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King preached from 1960 until his death in 1968, the Rev. Raphael G. Warnock was met with applause as he praised Obama's victory and imminent swearing-in.
"Praise the Lord as we look forward to Tuesday," Warnock said. "We ought to all celebrate this morning ... that we've moved closer to who we say we are."
More than 300 people filled the pews at First Cathedral in Bloomfield, Conn., to praise King and Obama before many headed home to pack for bus trips Monday to Washington.
"Obama talked about hope -- this solidified it," the Archbishop LeRoy Bailey Jr. said at the service, in which members of the suburban Hartford congregation watched tapes of King giving speeches that included his 1963 address at the Lincoln Memorial.
"On Tuesday, Jan. 20, this nation will do the almost unthinkable," said the guest speaker, the Rev. Harold A. Carter of New Shiloh Baptist Church in Baltimore.
"A black man will lay his hand on the Bible, one of the justices will lead him in swearing that he will uphold the Constitution. ... Four hundred years ago, this was not supposed to be. We were brought here as slaves, as chattel," he said.