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Marchers Recall King Amid Specter of War

Hundreds turn out for annual Oxnard event in honor of civil rights leader, some pointing to his words of peace as conflict looms.

January 21, 2003|Tracy Wilson | Times Staff Writer

Waving antiwar banners and singing songs of peace, hundreds of men, women and children marched from Oxnard's Plaza Park to the Performing Arts Center on Monday morning to honor the life of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

They echoed his eloquent words and spoke of the courage that propelled him to the forefront of the civil rights movement four decades ago.

And as they walked a mile in the early-morning fog, many talked about the importance of keeping King's legacy alive as the nation continues to grapple with war, racism, poverty and social injustice.

"This is important -- it is in remembrance for what Dr. King stood for," said Oxnard resident Bill Terry, who carried a placard covered with a black-and-white poster of the slain civil rights leader and his inspirational words: "Free at Last."

A Baptist minister and inspirational speaker, King first gained national prominence by leading a yearlong boycott against segregated buses in Montgomery, Ala. He advocated passive resistance and led marches, protests and demonstrations for black rights.

King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. Four years later, while planning a march in support of antipoverty legislation, he was shot and killed.

"His dream has continued to live on and give us hope," said 15-year-old Stephanie Harris, who gave a welcoming address at the 17th annual Martin Luther King Jr. birthday observance, which immediately followed the march from Plaza Park.

In preparing her speech, Harris, a sophomore at Oxnard High School, drew from the memories and experiences of her grandmother, Helen Harris, who met King in Nebraska in 1960 and participated in the bus boycott.

"I've told her a lot about Dr. King," Helen Harris said Monday, after her granddaughter took the podium during a series of speeches at the Performing Arts Center. "I am very proud that she is able to participate and have a dream of her own."

Many of those gathered Monday in downtown Oxnard said King's campaign to end segregation at schools, in restaurants and on buses did much to improve the status of black Americans. But they said the struggle is not over.

"We have made some strides, but we have not come as far as we should have," said Oxnard resident Kamilah Wilson, who attends the march every year in remembrance of King. "I think we are backsliding, a lot."

Others invoked King's legacy of nonviolence and compared his marches in the 1960s to the antiwar rallies held across the nation over the weekend.

"We're out here to support what Martin Luther King stood for," said Ventura resident Lynne Moore, who attended with her 7-year-old daughter, Veronica. "We need that more than ever."

Moore and her friend, Teresa Dye of Ventura, marched in a peace rally over the weekend and brought their elementary-school-age children to Oxnard for the King march to reinforce a lesson he preached.

"It is important to learn to stand up for your beliefs," Dye said. "That is still true today."

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