Despite gloomy weather, about 200 people gathered in downtown Oxnard on Monday to march and sing in commemoration of the birthday of slain civil-rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
The marchers, who carried signs and sang “We Shall Overcome,” walked from Plaza Park on C Street about half a mile to the Oxnard Civic Auditorium on Hobson Way, where they joined 400 more people to listen to speeches and gospel singers.
Organizers said the weather may have deterred some people from attending the march, which they said attracted about 1,200 people last year.
Among the speakers at the gathering in the auditorium were Olympic gold medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Kevin Nathaniel, a 14-year-old Camarillo student who gave an emotional address titled “The Dream is Alive.”
Although organizers of the event said it was not intended to be a protest of the Persian Gulf War, a few marchers carried American flags and signs calling for an end to the violence.
Bedford Pinkard, chairman of the Martin Luther King Jr. Committee of Ventura County, noted that King’s birthday is actually on Jan. 15--the day the United Nations set as a deadline for Iraqi forces to leave Kuwait.
“One of the things that bothered me is that we declared war on his birthday,” Pinkard said.
King, who led peace movements during the Vietnam War and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, was assassinated in 1968. He would have been 62 this year.
On the eve of the holiday to honor her late husband’s birthday, Coretta Scott King called for an immediate cease-fire in the Persian Gulf.
“Our most urgent short-term priority at the international level is a cease-fire in the Persian Gulf,” she said in her annual State of the Dream speech in Atlanta.
Since 1986, when the United States began to recognize the third Monday in January as a federal holiday to honor King’s birthday, the Martin Luther King Jr. Committee of Ventura County has organized annual marches and celebrations, Pinkard said.
One marcher in Monday’s procession carried a sign that read: “What Would Dr. King Say to Us Today?” Another sign read: “Support Our Troops--Bring Them Home Now.”
Jim Frazier, a Camarillo resident who attended the march, said King would have asked his followers to oppose the war.
“It’s time for the United States to be one again,” he said as he filmed the procession with a portable video camera. “I think the country’s big enough for all of us.”
As marchers moved toward the auditorium, residents along 5th Street came out of their homes, some wearing bathrobes, to show their support for the procession. A man with a mustache, wearing a blue shirt, raised his hand in a peace symbol as the group passed his house.
Warren Porter of the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Port Hueneme asked the audience to pray for “a flood to wash away hatred and the debris of prejudice from the land.”
Joyner-Kersee, who won two gold medals in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, told the crowd that “dreams are hard to make a reality if we don’t believe in ourselves.”
This year’s celebration was dedicated to the youth of the world, Pinkard told the crowd. “If there is going to be continued change in this world, our youth will play a role in it,” he said.
One of the highlights of the event was the address by Nathaniel, a Camarillo High School freshman who has competed in several local speech competitions. He received a standing ovation before and after his speech.
In the same oratory style as King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Nathaniel asked the audience to continue King’s work.
“I too have a dream for world peace,” he said. “How can I breathe life into my dream? . . . Someday I want to say, ‘Thank God, the dream is alive.’ ”