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Black History Parade, King Speech Draw Thousands

February 02, 1986|ROXANA KOPETMAN | Times Staff Writer

To the young, "whites only" signs "seem like misty images from a horror story," the eldest daughter of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. told a crowd in Santa Ana Saturday after the seventh annual Black History Parade.

But that part of American history "was not even a television special," Yolanda King said. "It was live and in living color."

The parade and King's speech kicked off Black History Month. But, she said, the study of black history should not be "relegated to the shortest and coldest month of the year." The battle for civil rights should be continuous, she said, because "these times call not for merriment only, but for movement."

Despite looming rain clouds Saturday, parade watchers trekked to downtown Santa Ana to see King, celebrate America's black heritage, watch their kids in the band and glimpse a beauty queen or two.

How many made that trek to the parade, however, was unclear. With the exception of a crowded intersection at Main and 10th streets, most of the 1.5-mile parade route was dotted with people.

Crowd estimates ranged from the low thousands to 20,000 people.

Garden Grove resident Randy Macon, with a son and daughter in tow, said he came out to see another daughter marching in the parade and pay "tribute to the contributions of black America."

A little disappointed at the number of visitors in the morning, Macon said he was "confident that the crowd will get a little better as the day proceeds." Glancing at the sparse crowds, he quipped: "The streets are filling up now."

In Orange County, with a total population of almost 2 million and a black population of about 25,000, Macon said, "it's good to see all these good black people out here--when they get here."

Officials from the city, which for the first time co-sponsored Black History Month by contributing $42,395, said that the parade went great and that the numbers far exceeded last year's attendance of about 4,000. "It was an enthusiastic crowd," Councilwoman Patricia McGuigan said. City officials estimated the crowd at about 20,000.

With the exception of its first year, this was the first time that the parade snaked through downtown streets. Traditionally, the dignitaries, floats and clowns have appeared in the southwest section of town.

Besides King, the parade's grand marshal, others in the festivities included Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, Santa Ana City Council members and some athletes and screen personalities.

"It has come a long way," Helen Shipp, president of the Orange County Black Historical Commission, said of the parade, which her group has sponsored since its inception, when the entries numbered eight. On Saturday, the parade had about 200 entries.

'Sense of Unity'

The atmosphere of the parade and the activities that followed gave the black community a sense of unity, Shipp said. With 6,000 to 7,000 blacks, Santa Ana has the largest black population in the county, she said.

"I was talking with a man from Los Angeles, and he said he didn't realize there were blacks in Orange County," said Shipp, who estimated the parade's attendance at about 8,000.

After the parade, a predominantly black crowd remained in the Centerpointe area, where the aroma of food filled the air and the mood was that of a giant block party.

One hitch was the message printed on colorful balloons: "I had a dream." "It was an unfortunate mistake," city public information officer Mike Bush said. The balloons referred to the late civil-rights leader's oft-quoted "I have a dream" passage from a speech.

Contributions by Blacks

When the time for speeches came around, City Manager Robert C. Bobb spoke of blacks' contributions and listed the inventor of the gas mask, the first director of a Red Cross blood bank, a founding father of the city of Chicago and the first man to die in the American Revolution.

Regardless of the other speakers' messages or the way they got them across, it was King's eloquence that brought a hush to the crowd.

King, an actress, producer, director and lecturer, said that as a nation, "morally and spiritually, we are on the verge of bankruptcy."

She criticized the Reagan Administration for its defense spending, among other things, and praised the President only for signing a proclamation commemorating her father's birthday as a legal holiday.

"If we never get to see another miracle in the 20th Century, all of us saw it (Reagan signing the proclamation)," King told the cheering crowd. "Let no one fool you. That was a modern-day miracle."

Boycott Was Threatened

In Santa Ana, a coalition of black religious leaders last month had threatened to boycott the parade if the city did not observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day. On Saturday, Councilman Dan Young said city employees can opt to take the day off as one of their already approved holidays. Holidays are decided during contract negotiations, and officials did not bargain over the King holiday because this was the first year it was celebrated nationally.

Honoring the slain civil rights leader is only one step in continuing with the work of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, Yolanda King said.

The mortality rate of black infants remains three times that of white infants, and blacks are "still, by and large, the last hired but the first fired," she said.

"Jim Crow is dead," King said. "But his sophisticated, college-educated, urbane first cousin J. Crow, Esquire, is alive and kicking."

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