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WATTS : Show Stirs Memories for King's Daughter

July 03, 1994|SANDRA HERNANDEZ

Stepping out of the blazing sun and into the smoky darkness of the warehouse-style building, Yolanda King stopped and squinted. As her eyes adjusted to the dim lighting, she stepped slowly toward a voice inviting her back in time to a segregated Meridian, Miss.

The murky room is the first stop on a tour of a photography exhibit that pays tribute to King's father, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

King, the eldest daughter of the slain civil rights leader and an Atlanta resident, recently toured the traveling exhibit of 62 rare photographs currently housed at the Watts Labor Community Action Committee's headquarters at 10950 S. Central Ave.

"This has brought back a lot of memories," said King, passing photos of her father as she walked toward another room where a coffin sat, signifying her father's assassination on April 4, 1968. "It's often hard for young people to understand the fear and terror so many people felt and how bold they were to get involved in the marches. But walking through the first part of the exhibit I felt that terror."

The exhibit, "Countdown to Eternity," a collection of photographs of King, his family, and other activists taken by Benedict J. Fernandez, will be on display until July 31. The exhibit also marks the first such project undertaken by the committee, a nonprofit organization that has focused on economic projects in Watts.

"What we are trying to do is communicate that leaders sprung up everywhere, and to reach kids with that message" said Teryl Watkins, executive director of the group her father, Ted Watkins, helped start. "Society has lost touch with people, and the 1992 riots were proof that everyone was out of touch. So what we want to do is reach out to people with this exhibit."

As part of that goal, the group hired Verna Jones to curate the show and expand the exhibit's appeal by providing audio and visual props that evoked the struggle of the time.

"This exhibit has been traveling throughout the country but no one has heard anything about it," said Jones. "I wanted to make it live and to reflect the work of Dr. King and that of other civil rights workers. And I wanted the exhibit to speak to young people and make them see that this struggle is still a living force, and not something you can just kind of archive somewhere."

Jones apparently struck a chord with visitor Alton Butler, 79. "This has made me think about a whole lot of things, like where I was when I heard about (King's) death, and all the things he did for us," he said, recalling King's assassination.

The exhibit is drawing praise from community leaders such as Joe Hicks, who heads the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. For Hicks, the exhibit offers a chance to bridge a gap between older black Americans and their children.

"When I walk through here, I realized we have a chance to interpret history here," said Hicks. "We have to get the young people to understand the crucial role young people played in the (civil rights) movement and how there is also this possibility for them to get involved now."

Los Angeles is the latest of six cities to host the exhibit funded by the Ford Foundation. Additional funding has been provided by local residents and corporate sponsors including IBM.

The free exhibit is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Information: (213) 563-5639.

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