Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. : Los Angeles Honors Lasting Legacy of Civil Rights Leader

Times Staff Writer

After graduating from high school in 1950, John Outterbridge would have liked to attend the college that was just a 10-minute walk from his home in Greenville, N.C.

“But there was no such thing as integration at that time, and that was a campus we could not go on unless we worked there or something like that,” Outterbridge, director of the Watts Towers Arts Center in Los Angeles, recalled Tuesday as he discussed the legacy of slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., born 57 years ago today.

Outterbridge, who enrolled instead at an agricultural and technical university in Greensboro, N.C., saw action in Korea with the U.S. Army a few years later. But when he came back to the United States, blacks “were still riding in the back of the bus in many parts of the country,” he recalled. It was a situation that King helped to change.

King’s legacy--dating from the mid-1950s Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott that ended segregation on that city’s buses and helped launch the civil rights movement--is being celebrated across Los Angeles in events this week leading up to Monday’s new national holiday honoring King.


The new holiday “means very much to me,” Ray Cunningham, an aide to Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, said Tuesday as she looked over a photographic retrospective of King’s life that is on display at City Hall. “Martin Luther King, of course, was a symbol for all black people. To make his birthday a national holiday is a great undertaking. We’ll never forget him this way. . . . I’m hoping this holiday will let our younger people--black and all people--know there is a way to bring about change, the way King did it.”

Bradley told a racially mixed assembly of 1,500 students at Grant High School in Van Nuys on Tuesday that they need only look at the faces around them to see a living example of King’s dream. But the mayor told the students that unless they continue King’s commitment to civil rights, “the leader of the second American revolution” will have lived and died in vain.

Events today honoring King include an 8 a.m. interfaith prayer breakfast at Trinity Baptist Church in Los Angeles, a 10 a.m. service at Pasadena Presbyterian Church in Pasadena, an 11 a.m. ceremony in the Los Angeles City Council chamber, a noon rally outside the UCLA student union and a candlelight march on the UCLA campus this evening.

The King holiday will be marked with a black-tie dinner Monday at the Westin Bonaventure in downtown Los Angeles. Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu, South African human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner, will be the keynote speaker.


The Watts Towers Arts Center will hold a reception from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday to open an exhibit of anti-apartheid posters and photographic essays on South Africa called “From Martin to Mandela--the Struggle Continues.”

The exhibit, which honors imprisoned black South African leader Nelson Mandela and his wife, Winnie, as well as King, is scheduled to run through mid-March. It is meant “to look at the continuing struggle of people to be free in the world,” Outterbridge said.

Other scheduled events honoring King include:

- A Martin Luther King Jr. Day Symposium to be held today at George Washington Preparatory High School in Los Angeles, at which students from 55 high schools will hear a talk by Los Angeles County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn.

- Art workshops to make King birthday cards, today at 2:30 p.m. for children aged 5 to 7 and 3:30 p.m. for ages 8 to 12, at the McGroarty Cultural Arts Center, 7570 McGroarty Terrace, Tujunga.

- A breakfast for Southland labor union leaders and members, 7 a.m. Friday at the Sheraton Town House, 2961 Wilshire Blvd.

- Presentation by Gov. George Deukmejian of art and essay awards to winners of a contest sponsored by the Southern California Leadership Conference and the California Afro American Museum, 1 p.m. Saturday, Kinsey Auditorium, 600 State Drive, Exposition Park.

- Free concerts Saturday at the Gallery Theatre in Barnsdall Art Park, 4800 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. The Ink Spots and Nellie Lutcher will perform at 2 p.m. The Buddy Collette Sextet is scheduled at 7 p.m.


- Music by Larry McCoy and the Watts Towers Jazz Ensemble, Marlton School Break Dancers and poetry, 7 p.m. Saturday at the Los Angeles Photography Center, 412 S. Park View St., Los Angeles.

- Poetry by Myron Ruderman, 8 p.m. Saturday at McGroarty Cultural Arts Center, 7570 McGroarty Terrace, Tujunga.

- A documentary film of King’s life, 8 p.m. Sunday at the Los Angeles Baha’i Center, 5755 Rodeo Road, Los Angeles.