Special Commentary: MLK Day in Davis

Yesterday, the city of Davis had not one but two events to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.

First the city’s 14th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration at the Varsity Theatre.

The feature speaker for the event was Dr. T. William Hall, a Professor Emeritus from Syracuse University. Dr. Hall, now a Davis resident, attended Graduate School in Theology with the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. He described his college days with Dr. King who in those days went by MLK.

MLK was an ordinary person, with ordinary concerns. Dr. Hall stressed this because he said none of them realized that this was the man who would lead the nation’s civil rights struggle. However, MLK was a man who rose to the occasion. He had been a carefree sort of person during college, however, when Dr. Hall saw him next, that carefree spirit was gone. He barely recognized the man who transformed himself into the leader of the nation’s struggle for civil rights.

Monette Perrin lead an ensemble of young performers who took us on an historical journey, reenacting local history and local figures from the African-American community.

The Davis High School Black Student Union students came up and each of them talked about what Martin Luther King, Jr. meant to them. One of the students talked about the fact that she was able to attend classes and treated for the most part as an equal as embodiment of MLK’s Dream.

Tansey Thomas then presented a video that contained the full version of “I have a Dream” speech performed at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963.

Finally, the children would lead most of the audience on a march around the block.

The evening’s event would feature a number of speeches and performances. Bill Calhoun spoke about Martin Luther King’s legacy and exhorted the audience that the fight is not over. He talked about the fact that MLK was not the figure that he has become to be thought of in contemporary times. Rather he was a fighter for civil rights and though he used non-violence he was combative and strident in his own way–rocking the boat and upsetting the order of the day.

The highlights of the day included a brilliant beatboxing/ hip-hop performance from Davis’ Buttercup and then the awards ceremony itself where eight young students were presented with scholarships that will enable them to go to college.

This a good day but I tough day. I sat with Joyce Trujillo and two of her sons. Joyce is the wife of the late Mel Trujillo who helped to found this award ceremony as a way to give back to this community. Joyce received an award on Mel’s behalf. Mel Trujillo was a great friend and a fighter for civil rights and social justice. He was greatly missed on this day.

These are pictures from the afternoon program at the Varsity Theater…

These are from the MLK Awards Ceremony Last Night at the Oddfellows Hall…

My own thoughts on the day and the meaning of Martin Luther King’s legacy…

The evening program presented an interesting contrast. At one end was an older generation, people who were in their 60s and 70s, people who had lived through the civil rights movement, people whose grandparents or great grandparents had been slaves. For them, there had been much progress but much unfulfilled promise. One of the speaker’s described the hope and promise of the 60s and the feeling of not having that same feeling these days.

On the other head was the hope and exuberance of the youth. These are the next generation of fighters for civil rights, the next generation of activists for social justice, and most importantly the next generation of professionals who will go to college, obtain a college degree, and then get a job and raise a family.

In a year where the Democratic nominee for the first time will be a black man or a white woman, there is much to be hopeful. And yet real problems of poverty, lack of education, and lack of hope remain. Reconciling those two pictures will be the task of those kids who were receiving those awards. It will be the task of those of us in my generation who have inherited the workforce and the political system.

At the end of the day, I do not know who is right–the hope of the youth or the unfulfilled dreams of the older generation.

One of the remarkable features of yesterday is that everyone read excerpts or passages from their favorite Martin Luther King, Jr. speech. And for each person it was a different speech and a different line.

My favorite speech was not read from yesterday. It was a speech of hope for the future but also not a speech for the light-hearted. It speaks of justice but vigilance. For me this is one of the great messages from Dr. King. For all of those who celebrate his legacy but fail to live out his creed. For all of those who take solace in his words but fail to fight for social justice.

The following is the closing remarks in a speech called “Our God is Marching On.” It was delivered on March 25, 1965 in Montgomery, Alabama.

How long? Not long, because “no lie can live forever.”
How long? Not long, because “you shall reap what you sow.”

How long? Not long:

Truth forever on the scaffold,
Wrong forever on the throne,
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
And, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow,
Keeping watch above his own.

How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

How long? Not long, because:

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He has loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword;
His truth is marching on.
He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat.
O, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! Be jubilant my feet!
Our God is marching on.

—Doug Paul Davis reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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