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ATLANTA — Communities across the nation celebrated the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday on Monday with acts of service, prayer services and parades. But with the November presidential election as a backdrop, some events took on an overtly political turn.

In King’s hometown of Atlanta, several speakers at the 56th annual commemorative service for King at historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King served as pastor, touched on the divisive partisan climate in the United States.

Former U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, who served on the House committee that investigated the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the Capitol, had harsh words for Trump, whom she did not mention by name. On that day, Trump’s supporters tried to block Congress from counting the Electoral College votes that would affirm Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential race.

“A former president refuses to acknowledge that he lost, and he has convinced millions that our elections and our democracy no longer work,” she said. “He threatens the foundations of our nation and everything Dr. King persevered to save.”

She also criticized some religious leaders in the way the seemed to worship Trump, not God.

U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, the longtime senior pastor of Ebenezer, told the audience, “You better stand up and vote!” to rousing applause. “If your vote didn’t count, why are folks trying so hard to keep you from voting? Stand and use your voice. Stand up and use your vote. Speak up!”

Bernice King, the daughter of the late civil rights leader, warned that “our humanity is literally under attack.” But she noted that her father’s legacy of nonviolence taught the world that “we can defeat injustice, ignorance and hold people accountable at the same time without seeking to destroy, diminish, demean or cancel them.”

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Speaking at the MLK Day at the Dome rally at the South Carolina Statehouse, Vice President Kamala Harris said young people two or three generations removed from King have seen their freedoms shrink — from laws restricting voting to bans on abortions and the ever-present threat of gun violence, especially in schools.

“They even try to erase, overlook and rewrite the ugly parts of our past. For example, the Civil War — which must I really have to say was about slavery?” Harris said.

Harris also used her speech at the event — which started in 2000 to pressure the state to remove the Confederate flag from atop the Capitol dome — to urge the younger generation to regain those rights lost through voting and action.

“Generation after generation on the fields of Gettysburg, in the schools of Little Rock, on the grounds of this Statehouse, on the streets of Ferguson and on the floor of the Tennessee House of Representatives — we the people have always fought to make the promise of freedom real,” Harris said.

In Philadelphia, President Joe Biden marked the holiday by volunteering at Philabundance, a nonprofit food bank. He stuffed donation boxes with apples and struck up casual chatter with workers at the organization, where he volunteered for the third year in a row to mark the January day of service.

The 29th annual Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service is billed as the first and largest King day of service in the nation. Volunteer activities included preparing care packages for victims of gun violence and distributing voter information packets.

In Washington, Martin Luther King III participated in a wreath-laying event at his father’s memorial.

Meanwhile, a dangerously cold winter storm was limiting some planned activities. The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis announced that it would be closed on Monday because of icy roads but would still hold a virtual celebration in honor of King’s birthday.

Observed federally since 1986, the holiday occurs on the third Monday of January, which this year happens to be King’s actual birthday. Born in 1929, the slain civil rights leader would have been 95. This year also marks the 60th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act and King’s Nobel Peace Prize.

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