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Local News

Santa Barbara Honors Martin Luther King Jr.

Hundreds of people sing and march along State Street to a rally at The Arlington Theatre in remembrance of the slain civil rights leader

As spirituals like “Wade in the Water” wafted skyward, hundreds of people milled down State Street on Monday to sing and rally in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., marking the 43rd year of his death.

Making their way to the Arlington Theatre, the crowd listened to an impressive lineup of musicians and speakers who reminded the audience just how far America has come — and has yet to go — toward racial equality.

The event’s keynote speaker, Dr. Gloria Willingham, attended Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas just three years after the “Little Rock Nine” became the first black students to integrate the school.

Willingham, now a Fulbright Scholar and senior vice president at Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, said she discovered as a freshman that just because black students were allowed at the high school for classes, it didn’t mean they could participate in school activities. Legalized segregation had extended its grip into all reaches of society in the South.

“Except for the servant-boss relationship, there were no other relationships (between blacks and whites),” Willingham said.

But everything in her life had a purpose, Willingham said, adding that some of the spirituals sung throughout Monday’s program, such as “I Don’t Feel No Ways Tired,” helped steel her resolve while walking down the halls of her high school.

“It’s not enough to simply listen to the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” she said. “We must find ourselves in those words.”

In addition to the moving music, dance and video tributes, the event, sponsored by the Martin Luther King Jr. Committee of Santa Barbara, included a host of local political speakers.

Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, spoke about the importance of King’s message — and approach — that relied on nonviolence. That approach is particularly poignant for Capps as she prepares to go back to Washington, D.C., after a weeklong hiatus in honor of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who critically injured in the Jan. 8 shootings in Tucson, Ariz. 

“That tragedy in Arizona seemed to reverberate across the country,” Capps said. “It shakes our sense of decency and our sense of security.

“Sometimes we wonder, ‘Have we made any progress?’ We want to remember that, even in the face of unspeakable atrocity, Dr. King refused to treat aggression with further hostility. ... He didn’t buckle, and he didn’t give in.”

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

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