Family of Martin Luther King Jr. criticises President Biden and Congress for failing to pass voting rights bills, saying passage of legislations could protect voters from racial discrimination.

Participants, including Martin Luther King III (C), walk across the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge to mark Martin Luther King Jr. Day during the Peace Walk in Washington, DC on January 17, 2022.
Participants, including Martin Luther King III (C), walk across the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge to mark Martin Luther King Jr. Day during the Peace Walk in Washington, DC on January 17, 2022. (AFP)

The family of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and their supporters, some shouting, "Hey Hey! Ho Ho! Voter suppression has got to go," have marched in Washington, urging passage of a law to protect voters from racial discrimination.

As part of the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day D.C. Peace Walk, the King family and more than 100 national and local civil rights groups strode on Monday across the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge calling on President Joe Biden's Democrats to pass a bill in the US Senate.

The march followed a disappointing week for Biden, who went to the Capitol to urge Senate colleagues to change filibuster rules so they could overcome Republican opposition to the bill, only to be forcefully rejected by two conservative Democrats who effectively hold veto power in the evenly split chamber.

Americans must commit to the unfinished work of Martin Luther King Jr., delivering jobs and justice and protecting "the sacred right to vote, a right from which all other rights flow," President Joe Biden said on Monday.

Martin Luther King Day is a moment when a mirror is held up to America, the president said in a video address on Monday.

"It's time for every elected official in America to make it clear where they stand," Biden said. "It's time for every American to stand up. Speak out, be heard. Where do you stand?"

Major holiday events included marches in several cities and the annual Martin Luther King Jr. service at the slain civil rights leader's Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where US Senator Raphael Warnock is the senior pastor. 

Pews have been packed by politicians in past years, but given the pandemic, many offered pre-recorded speeches instead.

READ MORE: Fellow Democrats sink Biden's hopes to save voting, election bills

King's son criticises Biden, Congress 

This holiday marks what would have been the 93rd birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who was just 39 when he was assassinated in 1968 while helping sanitation workers strike for better pay and workplace safety in Memphis, Tennessee.

King's eldest son criticised Biden and Congress as a whole on Monday for failing to pass voting rights legislation, even as 19 Republican-led states have made it harder to vote in response to former President Donald Trump’s false claims about election-rigging.

"You were successful with infrastructure, which is a great thing –– but we need you to use that same energy to ensure that all Americans have the same unencumbered right to vote," Martin Luther King III said.

Senate Republicans remain unified in opposition to the Democrats' voting bills. Biden described their stonewalling as part of "a true attack on our democracy, from the January 6 insurrection to the onslaught of Republican anti-voting laws in an number of states."

"In Georgia and across our nation, anti-voter laws are being passed that could make it more difficult for as many as 55 million Americans to vote ... that is one out of six people in our country," Vice President Kamala Harris said.

"We know that this assault on our freedom to vote will be felt by every American, in every community, in every political party," she said.

Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, the Senate's only Black Republican, countered with a series of King Day-themed videos he said would emphasise positive developments on civil rights. Scott sidestepped criticism about GOP actions and accused Democrats of labeling his party members as racists.

"To compare or conflate people who oppose his positions as being racists and traitors to the country is not only insulting and infuriating, it’s dead wrong," Scott told The Associated Press.

Senator Warnock, now running for reelection as Georgia's first Black senator, said in his speech to the sparse crowd at Ebenezer that "everybody loves Dr. King, they just don’t always love what he represents."

"Let the word go forth, you can not remember Dr. King and dismember his legacy at the same time," Warnock said. "If you will speak his name you have to stand up for voting rights, you have to stand up on behalf of the poor and the oppressed and the disenfranchised."

READ MORE: Biden backs Senate rule change to pass minority voting rights bills

'I Have a Dream'

King, who delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech while leading the 1963 March on Washington and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, considered racial equality inseparable from alleviating poverty and stopping war. 

His insistence on non-violent protest continues to influence activists pushing for civil rights and social change.

The US economy "has never worked fairly for Black Americans — or, really, for any American of color," Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a speech delivered on Monday, one of many by national leaders acknowledging unmet needs for racial equality on Martin Luther King Day.

Yellen referred to King's famous speech in remarks she recorded for delivery at the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network breakfast in Washington, noting the financial metaphor he used when describing the founding fathers’ promises of equality.

King said on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial that "America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of colour are concerned." 

He called it "a bad check, a check which has come back marked insufficient funds. But we refuse to believe the bank of justice is bankrupt!"

READ MORE: Americans honour legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

Source: AP