Several hundred people attended celebrations to honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday and heard community leaders call for national harmony and unity in the face of war in the Persian Gulf.
“Black men and white men and all men must work together for the common good of this country,” said Pastor J. Anthony Boger of Santa Ana’s Good Samaritan Seventh-day Adventist church. “The time to protest war was before war began, not now that our troops are over there and fighting for our freedom. . . .”
“Gods knows the last thing we want to do is give Saddam Hussein the idea that he has accomplished some type of psychological victory by dividing us as a nation,” Boger said at a King tribute sponsored by the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People.
Speakers at a service organized by the Baptist Ministers’ Alliance of Orange County, which drew about 400 people, sounded similar calls for unity.
“Don’t criticize us--the military--for being over there,” Cmdr. Charles Brown, a Navy chaplain from El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, told the 50 people who attended the NAACP tribute. “We are only doing what we’ve been instructed to do by the powers that be. Instead think about who you’ve been putting in office over the course of the last few years and then take it up with them. But do it after our troops get back home safe and sound.”
Across the country, thousands of Americans attended parades, demonstrations and speeches to celebrate what would have been the civil rights leader’s 62nd birthday.
While in Santa Ana leaders called for strong support for U.S. troops in the Middle East, in many places the celebration was mixed with calls for a cease-fire in the Persian Gulf War. On Sunday, King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, in her annual “State of the Dream” speech, called for a cease-fire.
At Shepherd of the Hills United Methodist Church in Mission Viejo, six ministers from area churches talked to some 25 parishioners about King and his message of peace in a time of conflict.
Dr. Jerry Pedersen, pastor of the Mount of Olives Lutheran Church in Mission Viejo, recalled meeting King at Portland State College in 1963. “He talked of many things, but mostly he talked about human dignity and peace,” Pedersen said. “He lifted my sights and many others’. And in spite of all evidence now that violence is running rampant, I feel right now that a revolution of peace is taking place. . . . Don’t despair, peace will come.”
In Santa Ana, speakers at both celebrations also called on blacks to return to the basics of education and family if King’s dream of racial equality and prosperity is to be realized.
“Dr. King’s dream was one of choices, not of handouts and give me, give me, give me,” Boger said. “Some of us have not used our choices wisely and have turned to drugs, gangs and welfare lines. That was not what Dr. King’s dream was about, and it’s not he wanted.”
The words of tribute were accompanied by praises in song by church gospel choirs and youth groups from elementary schools, high schools and UC Irvine.
But while each celebration concentrated for the most part on the positive contributions of King, leaders also took time to address allegations that the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize winner plagiarized his doctoral papers.
“We want to stress to the African-American community and everyone that they should not allow the media to alter their respect for Dr. King,” said the Rev. John McReynolds of Second Baptist Church, where the Baptist Ministers’ services were held. “There needs to come a day where Dr. King is not judged by his footnotes but rather by his footprints.”
At the close of each ceremony, the old Negro spiritual “We Shall Overcome” was sung, and program officials expressed desire for one massive countywide tribute to King next year to be held either at Santa Ana or Valley high school. “Dr. King was not just for blacks; he was for everyone,” said Ivan McKinney, director of Athletics for the Santa Ana School District. “And everyone should participate in paying tribute to his life’s work.”