Fifty years after civil rights leader Dr Martin Luther King Jr was gunned down on a hotel balcony in Memphis, Americans gathered at that same hotel, and around the country, to honour his legacy and reflect on how much further the nation still has to travel to meet his dream.

Thousands of people turned out to celebrate the life of the activist and preacher, who lead countless boycotts, walkouts, and marches in the fight to end racial segregation and discrimination in the US.

Hundreds flocked to the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, where King was shot and killed on 4 April 1968. Two of King’s children gathered at the hotel – now known as the National Civil Rights Museum – along with civil rights leaders Reverend Jesse Jackson and Reverend Al Sharpton.

King’s youngest daughter, Bernice, told supporters how difficult it was to remember her father’s assassination, which came one day after his famous “Mountaintop” speech to striking sanitation workers. Ms King was just five years old at the time.

“It’s important to see two of the children who lost their daddy 50 years ago to an assassin’s bullet,” she said. “But we kept going. Keep all of us in prayer as we continue the grieving process for a parent that we’ve had yet to bury.”

Ms King and her brother, Martin Luther King III, would later travel to Atlanta, where they would participate in a bell-ringing and wreath-laying ceremony at their father’s crypt to mark the moment when he was killed. Their brother, Dexter, and Martin III’s daughter, Yolanda, were also scheduled to participate.

In an appearance on ABC’s Good Morning America, Martin III said he thought his father would be proud of the non-violent movements happening in the US today – from the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements, to the student-led protests for gun control.

“He would know that we as a nation can, must, and will do better,” Martin III said.

Congressman John Lewis, a contemporary of King’s, marked an anniversary of his own on Wednesday. For the first time in 50 years, he returned to Martin Luther King Park in Indianapolis – the same place where he heard Senator Robert Kennedy announce King’s death back in 1968.

“If it hadn’t been for Martin Luther King Jr, I don’t know what would have happened to our nation,” Mr Lewis said. “I don’t know what would have happened to many of us that had been left out and left behind.”

He added: “I thank God that he lived. He taught us how to live. He taught us how to stand up – to be brave, courageous, and bold, and to never give up.”

Mr Lewis also appeared in a video with former president Barack Obama to commemorate the occasion. In the video, the pair visited students at the Ron Brown College Preparatory High School in Washington, DC.

“As long as we’re still trying, Dr King’s soul is still rejoicing,” Mr Obama told the students.

President Donald Trump acknowledged the anniversary in a tweet, linking to a video of his own, previous comments on King’s legacy. In a proclamation issued by the White House, Mr Trump said it was not up to the government to achieve Dr King’s ideals, but rather up to “the people of this great country, who will see to it that our Nation represents all that is good and true, and embodies unity, peace, and justice”.

The celebration in Memphis on Wednesday highlighted King’s struggle against economic inequality – the same struggle that brought him to the city the night he died.

King had travelled to Tennessee that week to speak with sanitation workers, who were striking over low wages and unsafe working conditions. In the final speech of his life, King urged the workers to continue fighting to “make America what it ought to be”.

“We’ve got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end,” King said that night. “Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point in Memphis. We’ve got to see it through.”

Some of the same workers who participated in that strike sat in the front row at Wednesday’s event. Hundreds of others gathered outside a union headquarters that morning before a march marking the occasion.

Meanwhile, the organisers of a new Poor People’s Campaign – the same economic justice campaign King was organising at the time of his death – announced there would be a new wave of action in the coming days.

Additional reporting by AP