Like many others filing into the high school auditorium in Santa Ana, Pryce Brooks had to take a day off from work to pay homage to the memory of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
But it was worth spending a day of vacation to attend Orange County's King celebration, Brooks said, because the new holiday is important. Five of his children--all born since the civil rights leader's death in 1968--listened as he spoke. The holiday, Brooks said, recognizes "the struggle we're in and the struggle we've been through. He (King) was a great leader to both blacks and whites. We haven't had that many great leaders these days."
That feeling--a celebration of hard-won civil rights and a resolve to pass along the commitment to future generations--was expressed in rousing song, prayer and speeches at Valley High School, where about 1,400 gathered to commemorate King's birthday.
"Now that all the cotton is picked . . . now that all the seats on the bus are ours, now that all the department stores are open to us, now we, too, must leave some stones of hope behind," the Rev. John Nix McReynolds told the crowd in the nearly packed auditorium.
The holiday is a happy celebration because the years of Jim Crow oppression and "violent uproar" are in the past, said McReynolds, senior pastor of the Second Baptist Church of Santa Ana. "May we never forget yesterday. But may we never confuse movement and progress," he said to the cheers and applause of the audience.
The largely religious and musical ceremony, "Our Commitment to Living the Dream," was sponsored by the Interdenominational Ministers' Alliance of Orange County and the local branch of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People.
In Los Angeles, the spirit of pride flowed down more than three miles of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard on Monday as 100 black community organizations threw the city's first Kingdom Day Parade, a joyful observance of the new federal holiday honoring King's birthday.
The parade, a sprawling mixture of spiritual, commercial and civic entries, meandered for four hours past thousands of bystanders, virtually all of them black. Starting near the Memorial Coliseum, it passed the crumbling storefronts and Victorian homes of Southwest Los Angeles, the neatly trimmed lawns of the Crenshaw district and ended in the suburban comfort of Baldwin Hills with a rally in a stadium named after the late Jackie Robinson, the pioneering black baseball player.
Shouts of 'Happy Birthday'
The day's most common greeting--"Happy Birthday"--was shouted enthusiastically by parade participants, who rode in cars, buses, motorcycles and replicas of churches and ships or marched as drill teams or bands or tambourine-banging members of congregations. King buttons, T-shirts, posters and poems were hawked up and down the street.
The Orange County celebration confined to the high school auditorium in Santa Ana at times resembled a community church service as audience members, wearing their Sunday best, often punctuated the 200-voice choir's gospel singing and ministers' prayers with spontaneous shouts of "Amen" and "Hallelujah!"
Red flowers framed by green ferns and leaves decorated the stage, and the choir was dressed in red, green and black, the colors of the black liberation movement.
"We have come a long way," James Colquitt, president of the NAACP Orange County chapter, told the crowd. "But it still concerns us in Orange County that we have empty seats in this building," he said, referring to about 100 unoccupied chairs. "It concerns us that some believe this holiday was a black holiday. But Dr. King knew better. He knew that these concerns were for all people of all races, creeds and color."
The turnout "is the first time in several years that a visible, viable black presence has been noticed in Orange County," the Rev. Russell Thomas Hill Jr., senior pastor, Johnson Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church of Santa Ana, said after the 2 1/2-hour program. "For the first time in years, we have said: 'We are here.' "
Only a few whites attended the ceremony, for which Hill took responsibility, saying that in planning Orange County's first Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration the organizers looked to their own congregations and members and "didn't appeal to others."
Like Brooks, printer Joseph Harris, 33, of Corona had to take a day of vacation to celebrate King's birthday. The ceremony left him with a feeling of togetherness and brotherhood; his 10-year-old daughter, Ricke, said she felt "joy and happiness" after the songs and prayers.
But Harris added that King's birthday is being wrongly perceived as a black holiday.
"If it were not perceived as a black holiday, more people would have had it off," he said.