Newark, NJ - A ceremony to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was hosted on Wednesday by Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, Jr., where a host of elected officials, community leaders and students gathered to pay tribute to the civil rights leader who was gunned down on April 4, 1968, outside of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.
"Dr. King was one of our nation's greatest leaders and one of his last public appearances was his visit to Newark, just a week before he was taken from us," DiVincenzo said. "His message of hope, peace and equality has resonated throughout the decades and inspired generations - and is just as poignant and relevant today as it was in 1968. Remembering his contributions and laying a wreath at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Statue in front of the Essex County Hall of Records is a fitting tribute to an individual whose guidance and foresight impacted our nation."
"Dr. King taught us that our fight for justice has to be stronger than our enemies' anger," Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said. "Today we are commemorating his assassination, but we are also celebrating the sacrifice he made for all of us."
Deputy Chief of Staff William Payne talked about the various times he met King when the minister visited Newark.
"I saw him at an event at Abyssinian Church in Newark and said 'I'll see you next time' as he was leaving," Payne said. "The next time I saw him was at his funeral. Dr. King's legacy needs to be known and understood by everyone, because we all have an obligation to continue his work."
Larry Hamm, President of the Peoples Organization for Progress, expressed pride at being a resident of Essex County because of the MLK statue in the county complex.
"I thank Dr. King for challenging the structure of our society and speaking about eradicating poverty, racism and war," Hamm said. "I am proud because Essex County is the only place where there are larger than life-sized statues of Dr. King and Rosa Parks."
The Essex County Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Statue was dedicated in October 2015.
Students shared their thoughts on King's legacy.
"Dr. King has taught me to be a dreamer, an activist, and to dare to be someone who thinks outside the box," Newark Tech senior Abbey Lawrence said. "While there are still great strides to be made in our country regarding race relations, I believe his message for my generation should transcend to other areas, including gender equality, religious tolerance, LGBT advocacy, immigration, and gun control. Collectively, we seek to create a world where man or woman, regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation, can be viewed and respected as an equal."
Newark Tech senior Shania Langford noted King's vision and sacrifices.
"It is essential that we finish where he left off," she said. "Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s motive was and still is to grow with love, encourage with love, and persist with love."
King, a Baptist minister and activist who became the primary leader in the civil rights movement from 1954 through 1968, advanced civil rights through nonviolence and civil disobedience.
King led a number of boycotts and protests and helped organize the 1963 March on Washington, where he delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech.
King later won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for his efforts in fighting racial inequality through nonviolent resistance.
King was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal.