Many found themselves drawn to the Lorraine Motel, where King was killed on April 4, 1968, including Reverend Jesse Jackson who was at King's side that day.
"The replay is never any better," Jackson said. "You take the scab off the sores, it's as raw as it was. Still bleeding."
The emotion running through visitors to the sacred site is part of the draw of being there. A group with Chicago's Rainbow PUSH coalition took an overnight bus to Memphis, and said the journey was an honor.
Visitors came from all over, many admirers of King's philosophy of non-violent protest for equality.
BLACK LEADERS REFLECT ON EVE OF MLK ANNIVERSARY; EVENT REMEMBERS 'I'VE BEEN TO THE MOUNTAINTOP' SPEECH
An event scheduled for Tuesday night at Mason Temple will commemorate King's famous and final speech, known as "I've Been to the Mountaintop," the night before his death. Panel discussions were also scheduled about King's impact.
"I've Been to the Mountaintop" was delivered in support of the striking sanitation workers who wanted to form a union for better working conditions and fair wages.
Union members from across the country participated in a day of action at the Mountaintop Conference. Eddie Sanders is from Chicago, but he lived in Memphis when King was killed.
"It was a sad day, I marched with King and the striking workers," he recalled.
Sanders continues to live by King's principles.
"King was a man of non-violence, he led with love. We need everyone to make this work," Sanders said.
Congressman Bobby Rush (D-IL) said returning to Memphis has been a reflective experience for him.
"Chicago, I recall the rioting. I recall that on the wayside, parts of the South Side, there was anger, bewilderment. Shock, followed by anger," he said.
Rush said 50 years later, the anger has been replaced with wisdom and determination to live out what he called King's conscience.
"I still have the deal and still believe absolutely that Dr. King's vision for America and for the world is still the most powerful vision that we could have, that anyone could have,"