Martin Luther King Jr. was surrounded by heavy security when he arrived in Los Angeles on Feb. 24, 1965, to give a series of speeches pushing for voting rights legislation.
It was a pivotal point in the civil rights movement, coming three days after the assassination of Malcolm X in New York and a month before the historic marches in Selma, Ala., where police violence against peaceful protesters would ultimately galvanize the country.
“I hope nothing happens to me,” King told The Times upon arriving in L.A. But should he be killed, he said, there should be no violent retaliation.
One of the venues that King was to speak at that week was Temple Israel of Hollywood.
On the eve of the federal holiday honoring King, the synagogue will hold an event Sunday evening to remember his visit and the sermon he delivered to a full house on Feb. 26, 1965. King was introduced that night by then-Rabbi Max Nussbaum, who had been a refugee from Nazi Germany, as “the man who has given the history of our generation a forward thrust, a sense of direction, an encounter with destiny.”
During his L.A. visit, King told The Times he was not deterred by threats on his life.
"One has to conquer the fear of death if he is going to do anything constructive in his life and take a stand against evil," he said. "I am prepared to face anything that comes."
TV talk show host Tavis Smiley, author of the recently published book “The Death of a King,” will be the keynote speaker at Sunday's sold-out event, which begins at 7 p.m. There will be musical entertainment -- including the Leimert Park Children’s Choir and a Korean dance group -- and some congregants who were on hand for King’s 1965 speech are expected to attend.
The celebration will continue Monday with the 3rd annual MLK Day Clothes Drive and Community Breakfast. That event, sponsored by Big Sunday, a local nonprofit that regularly brings together volunteers to help those in need, will be held from 9 a.m. to noon at the organization’s office at 6111 Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles.