Martin Luther King anniversary: US faith leaders unite for historic Washington march

Today will see one of the largest gatherings of US faith leaders since 1963's March on Washington, with this year's End to Racism rally marking 50 years since Martin Luther King Jr's assassination.

The march on Washington DC's National Mall is organised by the National Council of Churches (NCC), America's largest ecumenical body that includes 45 million members.

'We have for too long lived under the scourge of racism in our society. To begin the process of healing our nation, we as Christians must join with people of all faiths in holding ourselves accountable for our complicity, and commit to righting the wrongs,' said NCC president Jim Winkler.

The Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in Washington DC, where a silent prayer walk begins today.Ron Cogswell/ Flickr

The ACT End to Racism Rally will begin with a 7am silent prayer walk to the National Mall, followed by an interfaith service, and the rest of the day will consist of the 'rally to call and commitment'. The 'ACT' initials refers to the rally's commitment to awaken individuals to the reality of racism in US culture, to confront the inherent injustice, and to transform 'the hearts, minds, and behaviours of people and structures that shape society'.

'As we look at our society today, it is painfully evident that the soul of our nation needs healing. We must not only pray but take concrete action to realize and achieve racial and social justice, and we cannot possibly put an end to racism unless we commit to change at all levels – including within the faith community,' said Bishop W Darin Moore, chair of NCC's governing board.

'Christian churches, present in every town and community across the country, are both part of the problem and the solution,' said Rev Dr Sharon Watkins, director of NCC's truth and racial justice initiative.

'NCC and our partners are committed to addressing the systemic evil that many Christians and church institutions have yet to fully acknowledge.'

The rally which is open to those of any faith and none, will include numerous special guests including actor and activist Danny Glover, Grammy award winner Yolanda Adams, Sojourner's founder Dr Jim Wallis and Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream.

The historic rally joins several other events across the US marking 50 years since civil rights activist and faith leader Rev Dr Martin Luther King was shot and killed. Yesterday a large crowd filled Memphis' Mason Temple Church of God in Christ, where King gave his final and famous speech, 'I've been to the mountaintop', five decades prior. Yesterday's gathering included a video message from former President Barack Obama, according to Associated Press.

Lee Saunders, a national labour leader and speaker at the event, said: 'Dr King's work – our work – isn't done. We must still struggle; we must still sacrifice. We must still educate and organize and mobilise. That's why we're here in Memphis. Not just to honour our history, but to seize our future.'