Black Clergy Pressures Santa Ana for Holiday

Times Staff Writer

Religious leaders of Orange County's black community on Tuesday urged the City of Santa Ana to join with county, state and federal agencies in declaring Monday a holiday in honor of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

If the City Council doesn't act to give city employees Monday off, the leaders will call for a boycott of next month's Black History parade and will consider joining a group that has threatened a recall of the City Council, said the Rev. Russell Hill Jr., spokesman for the Interdenominational Ministers Alliance, a group of 27 black churches in the county. King's daughter, Yolanda, is scheduled to serve as grand marshal of the Black History parade.

"It is an abomination that the City of Santa Ana, being the county seat, would have the audacity not to respect a holiday declared by the President and Congress," Hill said. "We are incensed and righteously indignant."

Santa Ana has an estimated 30,000 black residents, about 15% of its total population and more than any other city in Orange County. Two of Orange County's 26 cities, Irvine and Huntington Beach, officially observe a holiday in honor of King.

'Consider Their Worthiness'

Hill, pastor of Johnson Chapel African Methodist Church, said blacks have spent more than 10 years fighting for the holiday and that alliance pastors would meet and discuss efforts to unseat council members if no action is taken. "If the persons who are presently elected officials aren't interested in this (calling a holiday), we would have to seriously consider their worthiness in terms of holding public office," he said.

City Manager Robert C. Bobb said holidays are decided during contract negotiations, so there hasn't been a chance to bargain over the King holiday since this is the first year it will be celebrated nationally. He added that any city employee who wishes to take time off to go to celebrations Monday, including a speech and recital by a 150-member choir at Valley High, will be given time off with pay.

No Plans for Holiday

Bobb said there are no plans to designate the day a holiday, adding that he thinks that Monday should be a time for blacks to celebrate rather than squabble. "This is not a time for divisiveness within the black community," he said. "It's a time to celebrate the life and achievements of a great man we all loved and respected."

Mayor Daniel E. Griset declined comment Tuesday.

Other leaders in the church alliance, which Hill said represents from 5,000 to 7,000 members, had few comments except to say that they supported Hill's statements. The Rev. John McReynolds of Second Baptist Church said: "This is something that should be of concern to all Americans."

James Colquitt, president of the county chapter of the NAACP, said his chapter had voted Monday night during a general membership meeting to support the alliance's protest. He said he didn't think it is unfair to single out Santa Ana.

"Santa Ana is the hub of the county, with a black population of more than 30,000," he said. "And they work very closely with the county and state. It doesn't seem very economical for city employees to work if the state and county offices are closed. They can't work in a vacuum."

Slap in the Face'

After the years of work involved in getting the federal government to declare the holiday, Colquitt said, it is a "slap in the face" for cities to remain open and conduct "business as usual."

He added that the holiday is necessary to ensure that King is recognized not just as a black leader but as a world leader. "When he was assassinated, he was helping white sanitation workers," Colquitt said. "If he were alive today, he might be in Ireland, helping people there, or South Africa, or Iran."

Colquitt said he doesn't accept the arrangement for city employees to take time off as a solution and said he believes that the council can take some kind of emergency vote this week. "We'd like to give them a chance to change their minds," he said.

Hill said it would be "hypocritical" for the city to sponsor the Black History Month parade and not declare Monday a holiday in honor of King's birthday, which is today. Santa Ana has allocated $42,395 to sponsor the parade and other activities.

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