"The quality of his character is only more apparent. His good name will be honored as long as the creed of America is honored," Mr. McCain said in front of the balcony where Dr. King was shot in 1968.
All three of the presidential candidates marked the anniversary of Dr. King's death. Although Mr. McCain, who once voted against creating a national holiday on Dr. King's birthday, was the only one to accept an invitation to speak at an observance of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which Dr. King headed.
Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton also traveled to the city where Dr. King died. Democratic Sen. Barack Obama, the most viable black presidential candidate in history, chose to campaign in Indiana.
"Struggling is rewarded in God's own time. Wrongs are set right and evil is overcome," Mr. McCain said in a driving rain. "We know this to be true because it is the story of the man we honor today and because it is the story of our country."
Mr. Obama addressed a rally in Fort Wayne, Ind., where he not only spoke of Dr. King's legacy but alluded to another leader gunned down in 1968 -- Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy. During the evening of the day Dr. King was shot, it was Kennedy who in an off-the-cuff speech informed a crowd in Indiana of Dr. King's assassination.
The Illinois senator said Dr. King recognized "that no matter what the color of our skin, no matter what faith we practice, no matter how much money we have -- no matter whether we are sanitation workers or United States senators -- we all have a stake in one another, we are our brother's keeper, we are our sister's keeper, and either we go up together, or we go down together."