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World Remembers Civil Rights Leader Martin Luther King

FILE: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, addresses marchers during his "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. Aug. 28, 1963. (AP Photo) Forma

Zimbabwe on Monday joined America and the international community in celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Day.

Political analyst Pedzisayi Ruhanya, director of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute, told VOA Studio 7 that King inspired Zimbabwe liberation war fighters.

King, a Baptist minister and civil-rights activist, was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Through his activism and policy of nonviolent direct confrontation, he played a pivotal role in ending the legal segregation of African-American citizens in the south and other areas of the nation, as well as the creation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

King received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, the same year a landmark civil rights bill was signed by then-president Lyndon Johnson. He was assassinated in April 1968, and continues to be remembered as one of the most lauded African-American leaders in history, often referenced by his 1963 speech, "I Have a Dream”.

King first rose to prominence in 1955 when he led a successful boycott of the public buses in Montgomery, Alabama, forcing the southern city to end its practice of segregating black passengers.

U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama commemorated the holiday by doing volunteer work. The pair helped to create a garden at a Washington elementary school and helped fill bags with books for needy children.

On Twitter, Obama said of King, "It is our mission to fulfill his vision of a nation devoted to rejecting bigotry in all its forms."

The holiday was created in 1983 when then-president Ronald Reagan signed a bill designating the third Monday in January to honor King. Congress designated the King holiday as a national day of service in 1994, a move aimed at encouraging Americans to take part in community projects.

King's birthday celebration this year comes as a predominately African American town in Michigan learns that it was not told for a year-and-a-half that its residents had been drinking lead-contaminated water, putting the population, especially young children, on the path to irreversible illnesses.

Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson described Flint, Michigan as a "crime scene." Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore described the situation in his hometown as a "racial crisis" and a "poverty crisis."

Volunteers across Michigan commemorated the Monday holiday with acts of service, including delivering bottled water to residents of Flint.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP, said in a statement Sunday, "To expose an entire city of nearly 100,000 residents, many of them children, to toxic lead is, if not criminal, is at the very least inhumane . . . Would more have been done, and at a much faster pace, if nearly 40 percent of Flint residents were not living below the poverty line? The answer is unequivocally yes."