Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., presented the Congressional Gold Medal to King's children, Martin Luther King III, Dexter Scott King and Bernice King, and it was accepted by Lonnie Bunch, the founding director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, where the medal will be kept on display.
The solemn ceremony was punctuated by rousing renditions of the national anthem and "We Shall Overcome" by the U.S. Army Chorus (although the Congressional leaders looked deeply uncomfortable as the held hands during the song) and a recording of Johnson's remarks upon the signing of the Civil Rights Act on July 2, 1964.
Despite the historical and ceremonial nature of of the event, it was not without its moments of politics.
Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., who marched with King in the '60s, Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, and the Democratic leaders used the occasion to urge their colleagues to pass a new Voting Rights Act, since the 1965 legislation was weakened by the Supreme Court last year.
"The Civil Rights Act did more than end discrimination," Fudge said. "The Constitution made it a principle, the Civil Rights Act made it a practice."
"If the Kings could speak to us now, would they not encourage us to come together to restore the Voting Rights Act?" added Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.
Last June, the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the 1965 law that determined which states with a history of discrimination would be required to obtain federal permission before changing voting procedures. Shelby County, Ala., successfully argued that the country had moved beyond the kind of discrimination that needed to be protected against by that provision.
A number of mostly Southern states previously covered by Section 4, have since made changes to their voting practices, including limiting early voting and passing voter ID laws, and just this week, conservative groups backing Mississippi Senate candidate Chris McDaniel were accused of voter intimidation when they said they would deploy poll watchers to primarily black districts in a "voter integrity project."