Vigil held to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 50 years after his assassination

1929: Martin Luther King Jr., the American civil rights leader and the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, is born in Atlanta, Georgia. King, who would be assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee, was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2004. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established as a U.S. federal holiday in his honor in 1986.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. paved the way for social justice and his actions are still making a difference 50 years after his assassination in 1968.

On Wednesday night, community members will hold a vigil at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. statue on Martin Luther King Park and Carey Avenue to honor his living legacy in Las Vegas.

News 3 spoke with Franklyn Verley with KECP, who's spearheading the vigil taking place at the statue that was unveiled in 2001.

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"We're one of 26 cities that have a statue, and while they may have extinguished his life they didn't extinguish his light," said Verley.

Dr. King's light shining down on Las Vegas since the inception of the civil rights movement. His actions contributing to monumental steps for social justice.

"The NAACP called for the desegregation of the strip and downtown in 1960. Would it have happened then if not for Dr. King? Probably not," said Michael Green, Associate Professor of History at UNLV.

In 1964, four years before his assassination, Dr. King gave two speeches in Las Vegas.

He spoke at the NAACP freedom banquet and then spoke on the street for those who didn't have the opportunity to attend the fundraiser.

Dr. King was a man of the people standing up for equal rights for all, no matter the color of your skin.

"Going against the times and saying I want to ride the bus with white people at that time was as radical as anything you would hear today," said Verley.

He also stated, "without that kind of outspokenness at that time and recognizing the power of social justice we wouldn't have the integration that we craved at that time so much, that we have now."

Las Vegas embraced his legacy. Highland street was renamed for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for the last three decades, roads downtown have been shut down for an hours-long annual MLK day parade.

People like Verley are pushing to continue Dr. King's work for equal rights because he says Dr. King was taken away far too soon.

"He was taken from us at age 39 imagine if he had gotten to live to be 50, imagine if he had gotten to Congress," said Verley.

King’s legacy is now inspiring a new generation of young people, including 10-year-old Alyssa Taylor who lends her big singing voice to causes she cares about. In January she joined thousands in Las Vegas for the women’s march — a sight reminiscent of the civil rights movement.

Taylor looks to Dr. King for inspiration.

“I’ve learned from him that you can always fight for what you believe in and no matter what you do you can always fight for other people too,” said Taylor.

The community feels there is still a lot of work to do.

In the words of Dr. King "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."

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