Vice President Mike Pence spent Sunday in Memphis, where he visited the National Civil Rights Museum and spoke at the Holy City Church of God in Christ in Raleigh. Despite the high-profile name, neither Pence or politics were the center of attention.
Around 9:30 a.m., the vice president landed in Memphis. Pence was then escorted from the airport to the National Civil Rights Museum (NCRM) downtown, where bystanders saw his motorcade cruise down G.E. Patterson Avenue.
"Tomorrow, the American people will celebrate a man who altered the course of our nation's history," Pence said. "He challenged our nation to live up to our highest ideals."
Pence was talking about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the historic civil rights leader who was assassinated in Memphis at the Lorraine Motel, now the National Civil Rights Museum, on April 4, 1968.
The NCRM was closed to the public during Pence's visit, guarded by police on horseback at every entrance, but inside the museum held a special moment for the vice president, the NCRM itself and the city of Memphis.
Pence explored the museum, where he took a seat at the “Standing Up by Sitting Down” exhibit. This exhibit represents the sit-ins of the 1960s, the non-violent protest method used by Dr. King and those searching for equality.
"I'm here to pay a debt of honor and respect for one of the heroes of my youth," Pence said. "To be here in Memphis on this occasion is deeply humbling to me."
Set to speak at Holy City Church of God in Christ, Pence peered at the white and red wreath standing where King once fell before he left in a black Escalade.
Waiting for Pence's arrival was Charlotte Bergmann, lifelong Memphian and author of "The Last Trumpet." Bergmann is a black woman who ran for congress and whose book has been endorsed by Alveda King, niece of Martin Luther King Jr.
"I've met Mike Pence many times, so that wasn't the big thing for me,” Bergmann said. "It was the strong leadership in the church and the positive impact it had on the congregation that meant something to me."
Holy City Church of God in Christ is located in the Raleigh community on James Road. Bergmann said the vice president first planned to speak where King spoke the day before his assassination, Mason Temple.
Bergmann also said that some churches gave a resounding "no" to the visit. Once Holy City became an option, it was unclear how Pence's presence would be received until he arrived.
"The people exemplified the fine qualities we in Memphis can show to people who visit us," Bergmann said. "He spoke in the same language, which was having a relationship with God, which moved us all closer."
Bergmann described the vice president as someone with a “spiritual glow” about him. Pence sat in a pew with the rest of the congregation until the end of the service, which he did not seem to mind.
Not everyone welcomed the vice president warmly. Several protesters stood outside of Holy City with one sign saying, "Bigots aren't welcome here." The protests were peaceful and without dangerous behavior, resembling the vision King had for protests.
"He is one of the most persecuted Christians in the world," said Bishop Taylor of Holy City as Pence prepared to speak. "People criticize him, hate him because he believes in the Bible."
Mike Pence is known for his faith and commitment to Christianity. This aspect of his character seemed to be one of the threads linking his presence to the people at the church, receiving applause as he approached the microphone.
One may think the vice president would speak about politics or voting when visiting a city during an election year. While Pence did mention the record-low unemployment among black Americans, he mostly stayed away from politics and focused on King's legacy.
"From walking dirt roads in the south to speaking at the Lincoln Memorial, to leading triumph over Jim Crow," Pence said. "What's inspired me the most is the man's faith."
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a Baptist minister in the 1950s and 1960s. He was the head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference at the time.
Pence began his speech by quoting Martin Luther King's words from his "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963, which Pence said represents who King was better than any other phrase.
"'Out of the mountain of despair is a stone of hope.' The courage, idealism and faith of a truly great American, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.," Pence said.
The vice president continued crediting King, calling him not just a leader of a movement, but a great American leader. He also spoke about the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, which has stood in Washington D.C. since 2011.
According to Bergmann, Alveda King is working with President Trump to further unify the country. She also said King's legacy was hijacked, and if he had lived, he would have changed the country even more for the better.
The special day in Memphis continued after Pence returned to Washington. Upon his departure, he acknowledged the division currently looming across the United States.
"I know in my heart that if we strive to open doors for every American, we'll see our way through this divided time to provide a more perfect union," Pence said.
Impeachment trials are planned to continue this week, and opinions on it ride on party lines, but Pence and the city of Memphis proved unity through disagreement is possible, though it could not happen without the work and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.