ATLANTA, Ga. - Hundreds gathered for celebrations ahead of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday on Monday.
Some gathered in downtown Atlanta on Saturday night for the Salute to Greatness Awards dinner at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.
Speakers noted this year was particularly special because it marks the 50th anniversary of King receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, as well as the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act in the U.S. People in attendance said they felt fortunate to have the opportunity to honor King's legacy.
In what would have been his 85th year, members of King's family joined a packed ballroom in singing happy birthday to a man whose mark on Atlanta and the world lives on.
"This really is about remembering the legacy of one of Atlanta's own who happened to change the world," said Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.
Reed joined other community leaders and nationally-known public figures at the Salute to Greatness Awards Dinner, the King Center's primary fundraiser recognizing people and organizations that show excellence in leadership and their commitment to the principles of the civil rights icon.
"This is just a moment for us to pause, acknowledge the work others did to move the city, state and nation forward," Reed said.
This year's honorees include former boxer-turned-humanitarian Muhammad Ali, whose daughter accepted the award on his behalf.
Organizers also recognized the Xerox corporation, Pakistani women's rights activist Khalida Brohi and the One Billion Rising campaign led by Eve Ensler.
"(King) created my vision of the world so it just feels unbelievable to be here accepting this award," Ensler said.
She is working to end the oppression of women worldwide, a movement of which she says she knows King would be proud.
"Dr. King's message above all, yes to love and no to violence, no to hate," Ensler said. "You can feel their energy here tonight. You can feel their presence and it's magnificent."
King's youngest daughter, the Rev. Bernice King, took the opportunity Saturday to speak out about an ongoing legal battle between her father's estate and the King Center, which she runs. She wanted to assure the center's supporters that none of the money generated from events such as the dinner are being used to fund that fight