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story.lead_photo.caption Mike Hayes speaks of economic disparities and inequality in the country Wednesday on the steps of the Missouri Supreme Court during the Missouri Faith Voices 50-year commemoration service to honor the life and legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis. Photo by Mark Wilson / California Democrat.
Gallery: MLK Life Legacy About 40 people stood on the Missouri Supreme Court steps singing folk songs early Wednesday evening.

In memory of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., they fell silent at 6 p.m., when the bells at St. Peter Catholic Church began to chime. The silence continued through 6:01 p.m., exactly 50 years after King was shot and killed on a balcony at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.

The moment was the culmination of a service commemorating the anniversary of his assassination.

But, the service was much more, according to the Rev. Rodney Williams, president of the Kansas City Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, president of Missouri Faith Voices and a tri-chairman of the Missouri Poor People's Campaign.

It was a reminder King's Poor People's Campaign continues.

King was not in Memphis for a vacation, Williams said. Rather, he was there in support of sanitation workers who were fighting for a union, livable wages and the end of racism.

"Fifty years later, we are still fighting the same fight," Williams told his audience during the service at Second Baptist Church to start the commemoration. "My sisters and my brothers, we are now living in one of the deepest, darkest and most deplorable times in these yet-to-be-United States.

"Everywhere we turn, there is discord, division, death and destruction."

The country is still plagued by a small population of the country that benefits from forcing poor people to work for less than a living wage with no benefits and no unions, he said.

Widening income inequality continues to stretch the social fabric thin; politicians criminalize poor people; people who need equal protections, don't receive them, he said.

Some people encourage racism and xenophobia to divide and steal from the poor, he added.

The backs of minorities and poor people are up against a wall, he said; their children's welfare is in danger. Williams said life expectancy and zip codes go hand-in-hand.

"America — and the state of Missouri — is in the midst of a moral crisis," Williams said. "The crisis has occurred because of bad politics and mean lawmakers that operate without compassion and without a conscience."

When a state or nation acts without care for the least of its people, it is in a moral crisis, he said.

The nation has become distracted, Williams said. Distractions keep people from doing God's work.

"We cannot be discouraged by the present administration," he said. "We cannot be distracted by the master distractor."

There is hope.

The people must lift up the example of King, he said.

"There is nothing that we are going through that God does not have enough experience, power and know-how to overcome," he said. "My beloved, if we just do the work of the Lord — and this is the work of the Lord — if we do the work of the Lord, God will take care of the rest."

He said America is in jeopardy and the fight is about saving its soul and being.

The people can't turn back because they are fighting against policies rooted in class-ism and racism. They can't turn back because they are standing on truth, justice and the power of God's Word, he said.

"If we continue to do this work, the enemy cannot defeat us," Williams said. "Justice will win and truth will conquer and our faith will survive."

Marco Combs, president of the Lincoln University Chapter of the NAACP, spoke about the responsibility people his age are undertaking.

"Our generation is the chain-breaking generation," Combs said during the service. "A generation which have broken their silence."

He said the Bible asks if one person becomes another's enemy because they spoke the truth.

And he asked if the country has arrived at a place where truth has become the enemy to justice.

"If one person would stand against the violence of this world, it would show the humility of mankind," Combs said. "This is a generation who is facing things the past generations never had to face."

Gun violence has entered schools — not just ending black lives, but white lives too, he said.

As part of the service Wednesday, Missouri Faith Voices honored Jack McBride, of Fulton, with its Drum Major for Justice Award for his commitment and fight for equal rights, equal opportunities and the Civil Rights Movement. Also for his appointment to the Missouri State Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission, 50 years' service in the NAACP, his work assisting desegregation of Fulton Public Schools and local businesses, for founding Fulton Youth Life Improvement Program, and for serving on King's funeral security detail.

"It's been a long, hard time," McBride said. "When Dr. King was killed, it gave us more strength to do what we were supposed to do."

Following the ceremony at the church, the audience, chanting protest slogans, marched to the Missouri Supreme Court Building, where they held their moment of silence.