Speaking to a crowd variously estimated at 10,000 to 16,000 people and surrounded by Fruit of Islam bodyguards, Farrakhan called King an "American hero."
"I was not a follower of Dr. King but I appreciate that man more today than I ever did before," Farrakhan said. "Dr. King did more for America than the founding fathers."
But, said Farrakhan, ''It's going to take more than a dream to pull (blacks and whites) together."
Farrakhan, a strong advocate of black self-sufficiency, said African- Americans need to unite spiritually and economically. And he called on blacks to stop the senseless violence against one another.
"You've been reduced to a nation of savages and you are now acting out a tragedy that justifies in the minds of racists your genocide removal without remorse," he said.
However, Farrakhan's wide-ranging speech kept returning to King and non- violence.
Farrakhan said Biblical stories such as that of Sodom and Gomorrah show that even God is violent when the situation calls for it.
"That's why I said non-violence is a good philosophy but there's a time when God said kill," he said. "We don't need to go to Calvary over and over again without taking somebody to Calvary with us."
Afterward, the Rev. Ralph E. Blanks, head of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity, called the address historically significant.
"We're coming closer together as a people of color," Blanks said, adding that Farrakhan's message seemed less militant and more conciliatory toward King than other speeches he had heard.
Others in the audience - who paid $10 admission - felt Farrakhan's preaching was timely and did not conflict with King's message.
"I see some similarity in their messages in that we need to do for ourselves," said Julie Burnett, 25, of North Philadelphia.
"He's like Dr. King, only Dr. King had his own way and Minister Farrakhan has his own way. But they both love black people," said Anna M. Wilson, 62, of West Philadelphia.
Allen Craig, 28, of Frankford, said he saw no problem in Farrakhan's speaking on a day set aside to celebrate King.
"No day should really matter if you have a message to our people," Craig said.