ATLANTA (AP) — Playing the Rev. Martin Luther King was deeply emotional and a heavy burden to bear, actor David Oyelowo told a crowd gathered at Ebenezer Baptist Church, the spiritual home of the slain civil rights leader in Atlanta.
Oyelowo, who played King in “Selma,” gave a tribute Monday at the 47th Martin Luther King Jr. Annual Commemorative Service. He got choked up as he talked about putting himself in King’s place.
“I felt his pain. I felt his burden. I felt the love he had for his family. I felt the love he still has for you Dr. Bernice King,” he said, addressing King’s daughter.
“I only stepped into his shoes for a moment, but I asked myself, ‘How did he do it?'” Oyelowo said. He explained that he, like King, has four children and said he cannot imagine walking through life knowing there are people who wanted to take their lives or that of his wife.
Bernice King invoked the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Eric Garner in New York City and the fatal shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio.
“I cannot help but remember many women and men who have been gunned down, not by a bad police force but by some bad actors in a police force,” she said.
She called on those who came to celebrate her father’s legacy to act out against injustice but also to remember his message of nonviolence.
“We cannot act unless we understand what Dr. King taught us. He taught us that we still have a choice to make: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation. I challenge you to work with us as we help this nation choose nonviolence,” Bernice King said.
U.S. Rep. John Lewis, who told the crowd he was just 17 when King sent him a bus ticket to come to Montgomery to join the civil rights movement, recalled the man he called his hero and his leader, a man who is “still a guiding light in my life.”
“The memory of such a great man can never, ever fade,” Lewis said. “I still think about him almost every day.”