Downtown Fresno march honors the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

Marchers join celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Hundreds gathered to march and to celebrate the message and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., followed by a rally at Fresno City Hall, Monday morning, Jan. 15.
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Hundreds gathered to march and to celebrate the message and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., followed by a rally at Fresno City Hall, Monday morning, Jan. 15.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Oliver Baines was thinking of another civil rights pioneer, Rosa Parks.

It was 1955 when she refused to give up her seat on a bus in Alabama to a white passenger.

“In 1955 Rosa Parks sat down. In 2018, we gotta stand up,” Baines said during the commemoration of Martin Luther King Day. That prompted cheers from the crowd.

A few hundred people marched Monday in downtown Fresno to commemorate King Jr. It was part of a holiday weekend of events held to honor his legacy.

The march began at St. John’s Catholic Church and ended at Fresno City Hall. Speeches by local leaders had a common thread – how far civil rights have progressed in the 50 years since King’s death, and how much work has yet to be accomplished.

City Council president Esmeralda Soria noted the march has been held for more than 30 years in Fresno.

“Here in our city we have a large number of unsheltered homeless, families losing quality health care,” she said. “In the last year we've seen hate rise for our minority communities.”

Baines reminded the crowd he has served two terms and can’t run for election again, so he wasn’t going to be politically correct.

Baines criticized President Trump and asked Republicans to stand up to him. “When the president turns a blind eye to people being mistreated all over our country, we know it's wrong,” he said.

Oliver Baines, a Fresno city councilman, gives an impassioned speech and makes plea for Republicans to stand up to President Donald Trump. Baines spoke at a rally in honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday, Jan. 15.

When Councilman Garry Bredefeld came forward to speak, some booing was heard, along with calls to “sit down.”

Last fall, Bredefeld received a backlash from the community for comments at a council meeting in which he said NFL players who kneeled in protest during the national anthem were “repugnant, disrespectful, misguided, and they dishonor the country and themselves.”

In his speech Monday, Bredefeld said King’s courage and honesty changed the country and the world. “While much progress has been made since he spoke of his dream on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, sadly there is still much yet to be accomplished.”

Police Chief Jerry Dyer said officers are working to continue King’s legacy of equality and justice.

“It’s exactly what police officers stand for, too,” he said. “On occasion, a handful of officers in this country have forgotten.” Some in the crowd thanked him for acknowledging police violence toward African Americans.

Fresno City College president Carole Goldsmith, Rep. Jim Costa and Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula were among others who spoke.

Mona Tatum, a first-grade teacher at King Elementary School, brought the King African American dance troupe to perform at the celebration.

Tatum has organized the troupe for almost 20 years. She said she brings the girls every year to learn about their culture.

“Some people think we (African-Americans) don't have a culture,” Tatum said. “To be proud of our culture is very important to me. I want them to experience that there is hope, no matter what they might see on TV.”

Ashleigh Panoo: 559-441-6010, @AshleighPan