City Chooses Panel to Find King Tribute

Times Staff Writer

Two months after local voters stripped the name of Martin Luther King from a downtown street, the San Diego City Council unanimously appointed a 21-person committee Monday to find another public tribute to the slain civil rights leader.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Tribute Citizens Committee, nominated by Mayor Maureen O'Connor, now becomes the second group formed to find a suitable memorial to King.

The first group--the Martin Luther King Memorial Committee, a private group assembled by the Greater San Diego Chamber of Commerce--began hammering out details on a private tribute a little more than a month after the vote, which reinstated Market Street as the name of the major downtown thoroughfare.

In 1986, the City Council voted to rename the street for King to coincide with the first national holiday to honor him.

The November vote to remove King's name from the street angered the black community and prompted its leaders to immediately call for a nationwide boycott of San Diego's tourist trade. The boycott plans were dropped after Chamber and civic leaders agreed to form the private committee and keep the designation of a new King memorial out of the political process.

"I think there is a rush here to compensate for the embarrassment that occurred as a result of Martin Luther King Way's losing its designation," said Barry McComic, chairman of the board of the R.B. McComic Co. development firm and a member of the private committee. "I think there are a lot of us in this city who are in fact falling all over ourselves because we are embarrassed," he said Monday.

Allowing Time to 'Mourn' Vote

However, the city's effort has been more deliberate because O'Connor, following the advice of her black advisory group, has decided to go slow and allow the minority community time to "mourn" the November vote, said Paul Downey, O'Connor's press secretary.

Though the Chamber has jumped out in front with its own plans, the mayor still believes the city should press forward with a public memorial, Downey said.

"It was the city originally that decided to honor Dr. King (with the 1986 vote), and her feeling is the city should follow through with the city recognizing him," Downey said.

"It's wonderful that the Chamber is stepping in, but they didn't step in two years ago when this first came up," he said.

Downey said the King committee approved by the council Monday will take months to evaluate all proposals. It is expected to hold its first meeting within two weeks and make its final recommendations sometime mid-year, possibly in July, he said.

$750,000 Fund-Raising Drive

Meanwhile, the Chamber's private committee is already planning a $750,000 fund-raising drive that will be kicked off at the new Marriott Hotel on Jan. 13, said Bill Nelson, the Chamber's chairman of the board.

Most of the money--$500,000--will be used for a scholarship fund to benefit San Diego students, McComic said, adding that the rest--about $250,000--will be used for a physical monument to King.

Suggestions have included a statue of King to be placed in a highly visible spot--possibly in Balboa Park or at the busy intersection of Harbor Boulevard and Laurel Street, near Lindbergh Field next to San Diego Bay, McComic said.

Nelson said Balboa Park emerged as a possible location for a private memorial because it is permanent park land. A final location for the monument has not been chosen, he added.

'Permanently Available'

"One thing a location (for a monument) has to have above all other things is that it is permanently available," Nelson said. "We can't select a site that is going to be gone tomorrow because someone has sold it or converted it to another use.

"But Balboa Park suggests itself, first because it is dedicated in perpetuity to park purposes," Nelson said. "Secondly, it is very accessible and almost everyone who lives in San Diego or visits San Diego goes to the park."

However, using Balboa Park would require city approval, and Nelson, who was also appointed to the city committee, said he hopes both groups will combine their efforts.

Downey said he sees no conflict between the two committees, especially since they are taking different approaches to a tribute. The private group wants a memorial like a statue, and the city is looking to rename another street or a public building for King, he said.

Herb Cawthorne, head of the Urban League of San Diego, said it might be possible to meld both efforts and put a statue in front of a renamed public building, such as the downtown convention center or the proposed new central library.

"There will be no competition," said Cawthorne, who serves on the private committee. "When the time comes to settle on what the various memorials will be, if there is a way to coordinate, they will."

Cawthorne was one of the black leaders who pushed the private memorial because of fears in the minority community that another public tribute to King would backfire and be rescinded again by San Diego voters.

"But I think the atmosphere has changed," he said.

Presiding over the city's King committee will be the Rev. Clyde Gains, a member of O'Connor's black advisory group. Others on the King committee are the Rev. Robert Ard, from the San Diego Human Relations Commission; Alice McCauley of the League of Women Voters; Susan Davis of the San Diego Unified School District board; Jim Dawe, an attorney; Ernest Lord of the San Diego Taxpayers Association, and the Rev. George Stevens, an unsuccessful candidate for the Council District 4 seat.

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