Community leaders and citizens gathered in the shadow of the Convention Center Monday afternoon to observe the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Promenade, marking the end of a 5-year battle to establish a memorial to the slain civil rights leader.
The ceremony, held beneath a canopy on First and J streets, was attended by about 200 people who came together both to remember King on the national holiday in his honor and mark the beginning of construction on a memorial bitterly fought for by community leaders and citizens. King was assassinated in 1968.
“I see this as a beginning,” said City Councilman George Stevens. “It is a giant step in addition to the steps we have already taken, but we still have a long way to go.”
The memorial promenade, located across from the bayfront, will be a 12-acre park with trees, flowers and a blocklong reflecting pool. A walkway will meander through the park, with granite plaques set in at intervals that bear quotations from King.
After speeches by community and civil-rights leaders, the crowd joined hands and sang “We Shall Overcome,” as they walked across the street to where the first of 14 granite plaques was installed bearing King’s words.
The park, which is expected to be completed in 1995, will extend along Harbor Drive from Seaport Village and the Convention Center to the Gaslamp Quarter, city officials said. It will cost the city $20 million to build, officials said.
In 1986, the City Council scrapped the idea of renaming a 5-mile stretch of Euclid Avenue and 54th Street after King, deciding instead to change Market Street to Martin Luther King Way. Voters overturned the decision in a hotly contested referendum the following year.
Two years later, the council’s efforts to rename the Convention Center after King were abandoned after the proposal was shot down by the San Diego Unified Port District.
In 1990, UC San Diego dropped a two-year effort to rename its third college after the civil rights leader when his widow, Coretta Scott King, withdrew support for the move. Some city officials felt her lack of support escalated after the Market Street incident.
“I’m glad that we did something that puts Martin Luther King in the center of town instead of being something that has not brought out the best in San Diego,” said the Rev. Glen Allison, a supporter of the promenade and Director of Episcopal Community Services for the Diocese of San Diego. “I’m glad we’re doing this, but it’s really only the first step. We have a long way to go.”