MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - About a dozen Democrats and Republicans prayed and sang "Amazing Grace" during a solemn ceremony Friday at the site where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated nearly 50 years ago, marking the start of a three-day congressional "pilgrimage" to sites with ties to the civil rights era in the South.
Members of the House and Senate were joined by faith leaders and activists for a wreath laying at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. Among them was U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat who played a key role in the civil rights movement and marched with King in 1965 in Selma, Alabama. Lewis hugged the "Amazing Grace" singer, Deborah Manning Thomas, who sobbed as she embraced the 78-year-old congressman.
"He said, 'Don't make me cry,'" Manning Thomas said. "I said, 'Thank you for every blow that you took for me.'"
U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), center, speaks while touring the Lorraine Hotel with other Members of Congress in Memphis, Tenn., Friday, March 2, 2018. Next to Lewis is U.S Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), left and U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.). Rev. Martin Luther King was assassinated at the hotel on April 4, 1968. Members of Congress are on a three-day pilgrimage to locations with ties to Martin Luther King. (AP Photo/Adrian Sainz)
The museum is at the site of the old Lorraine Motel where King was fatally shot on April 4, 1968. The ceremony took place under the balcony, where a white wreath is affixed to the railing in honor of King.
In all, about 30 members of Congress are expected to join the pilgrimage, which will include stops in Birmingham, Montgomery and Selma - three Alabama cities with ties to King and the civil rights movement. Leading the contingent along with Lewis are Republican Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander and Rep. Steve Cohen, a Democrat who represents Memphis. All three spoke with reporters after the ceremony.
Lewis said he heard King speak in 1955 when he was 15 and growing up in rural Alabama, and then met King when he was 18.
"He changed my life," Lewis said. "He inspired me to stand up, to speak up, and to never give up. ... He taught me how to live."
Before the museum visit, the best hanoi group Tour
attended a service at Mason Temple. That's where King delivered the famed "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech the day before he was killed. The Congress members were heading Friday to Birmingham for a visit to the 16th Street Baptist Church, where four young black girls were killed in a September 1963 bombing.
The group will move to Montgomery on Saturday for stops at Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, where King served as pastor, and the Civil Rights Memorial at the Southern Poverty Law Center. They will travel to Selma on Sunday and visit the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the site of a bloody confrontation during the voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery in March 1965.
The pilgrimage was organized by The Faith & Politics Institute, a Washington-based nonprofit. It's one of many events focused on the 50th anniversary of the death of King, who pushed for equal rights and fought against poverty and racism through non-violent protest.
"When he died, I think something died in all of us. Something died in America," Lewis said. "Each day, I think we must find a way to dream the dreams that he dreamed, and build on what he left all of us."
U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., hugs Deborah Manning-Thomas after she performed "Amazing Grace" at the National Civil Rights Museum, formerly the Lorraine Motel, during a tour by several members of Congress in Memphis, Tenn., Friday, March 2, 2018. Rev. Martin Luther King was assassinated on the hotel balcony behind them on April 4, 1968. Members of Congress are on a three-day pilgrimage to locations with ties to Martin Luther King. (Yalonda James/The Commercial Appeal via AP)
Members of Congress and local politicians pose for a photo during a wreath-laying ceremony at the National Civil Rights Museum on Friday, March 2, 2018 in Memphis, Tenn. About a dozen members of Congress visited the museum in Memphis as part of a three-day pilgrimage to sites with ties to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement. (AP Photo/Adrian Sainz)
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, right, speaks with National Civil Rights Museum President Terri Lee Freeman on Friday, March 2, 2018 in Memphis, Tenn. Alexander and about a dozen other members of Congress visited the museum as part of a three-day pilgrimage to sites with ties to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement. (AP Photo/Adrian Sainz).
U.S. Rep. John Lewis, left, pats Deborah Manning Thomas on the shoulder after hugging her on Friday, March 2, 2018 in Memphis, Tenn. Lewis and about a dozen other members of Congress visited the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis as part of a three-day pilgrimage to sites with ties to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement. Manning Thomas sang "Amazing Grace" at the event. (AP Photo/Adrian Sainz).