Public celebrations of Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Del Norte County are sparse, but one of the more successful of such events in recent memory manifested in a march through downtown Crescent City on Monday, followed by an open mic at the Veterans Memorial Hall.
Almost 100 people marched down H Street carrying signs like “Embrace Equality” and “I have a dream” to honor the memory of the seminal leader of the civil rights movement.
“It’s impressive. I didn’t expect to see this many people come out,” said Keegan Niland, one of the four Americorps volunteers who organized the event.
The group marched to Beachfront Park to clean up trash at the Kidtown playground.
“(The cleanup) is not necessarily MLK-oriented, but an act of solidarity amongst Crescent City people,” Niland said.
The open mic was intended to be a safe forum for youth to share ideas and art.
“I feel like it’s a great example for (the youth) to learn how to facilitate a gathering like this, because that’s really what Martin Luther King was about, bringing his community together,” said Radiance Santifer, another Americorps event organizer, who sported a T-shirt that read, “I (heart) being black.”
Mavris referred to a passage of King’s “I have a dream” speech given during the March on Washington:
“In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men — yes, black men as well as white men — would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness ... America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’”
Although in Del Norte, African-American constitute 4 percent of the population, compared to 6.6 percent statewide, marchers noted that MLK Day is not a singularly black movement.
“That happened to be one of the oppressed classes at the time, but there are other oppressed classes and other forms of oppression,” Mavris said.
Before starting the march, Del Norte District Attorney Jon Alexander shared a story of meeting Dr. King after a speech at Drew University in Madison, N.J.
The DA said his mother, Arlene Alexander, was handed a pamphlet before the speech.
“It was hate literature; it was bigotry; it was racist stuff,” he said.
His mother returned the pamphlet to its distributor after realizing the content only to have “nigger-lover” hissed at her back, Alexander said. She stiffened up, returned to the man and told him, ‘I’m very sorry that you weren’t raised any better than that,’” Alexander recalled.
In the early 1970s, Alexander said he was helping register young black voters at a construction site in Mississippi when he took a 2-by-4 to the face, and then, while curled on the ground, was called “nigger-lover.”
Alexander said he remembered responding: “‘You know, it kind of runs in the family.’”
In addition to Niland and Santifer, Americorps volunteers Jenna Barvitski and Josh Goodman organized the event.