Barack Obama is today paying homage to slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King as he vows to revive the spirit of sacrifice to overcome war and economic crisis during his upcoming presidency.

Full coverage at RTÉ.ie/Inauguration

As Americans celebrate Martin Luther King, the US President elect planned to spend the day highlighting community service.

Martin Luther King's funeral39-year-old Dr King was shot dead at around 6pm as he stood on a balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, while trying to mediate a strike on 4 April 1968.

Dr King was hit by one bullet and died in hospital, triggering race riots in dozens of US cities.

Last year on the 40th anniversary of his death, Dr King's son, Martin Luther King III, and civil rights campaigner Reverend Al Sharpton led a recommitment march through the city, highlighting Dr King's ideals of social justice. Martin Luther King & Lyndon B Johnson

On the eve of the anniversary, leaders of the US Senate and House of Representatives paid tribute to Dr King's memory in a series of speeches on Capitol Hill.

Nobel prize winner

Born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia, Dr King was a Baptist minister who became a civil rights activist early in his career.

He led the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-56 after Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white man, and his work led to the 1963 march on Washington, where he delivered his famous 'I have a dream' speech on August 28, 1963. Martin Luther King & Malcolm X

The speech, in which he spoke of his desire for a future where blacks and whites among others would happily co-exist as equals, helped raise public awareness of the civil rights movement.

He is widely believed to be one of the greatest speakers in US history, was the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, and was awarded both the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal posthumously.

Martin Luther King Day was established as a national holiday in the US in 1986.King awarded Nobel Peace Prize in 1964

Dr King's campaign to end segregation and racial discrimination through civil disobedience and other non-violent means inspired millions of others and had far-reaching consequences even after his assassination 40 years ago.

Ray confession retracted

James Earl Ray, who confessed to the murder during his trial, was arrested at Heathrow Airport in June 1968 after trying to use a forged passport and held in Wandsworth Prison, South London, while he awaited extradition to the US.

He initially admitted the murder but later retracted the confession and his insistence of his innocence has since been backed by Dr King's own family.

James Earl RayBut prosecutors said Ray fired the fatal shot from the bathroom of a nearby hotel, using a hunting rifle, and he was sentenced to 99 years in prison.

He died aged 70 in a Memphis hospital of liver failure from cirrhosis in 1998, without winning his release.

Records from Ray's time in Wandsworth, released in March 2001, showed US authorities feared he would be killed in prison.

They also revealed Ray told prison guards he blamed black Muslim groups and Dr King's own supporters for the assassination.