An estimated 2,500 people gathered Monday to celebrate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. during Tacoma’s 25th annual birthday celebration for the civil rights leader.
The two-hour event, “Celebrating Dr. King: One Man, One Dream, One Legacy,” started about two hours after President Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president, was sworn into office for a second term, taking his oath with a Bible once owned by King.
“For that to happen on this particular day, it seems like Martin Luther King’s vision is coming to pass,” said George Gilbert, 50, an investigator for the state Department of Corrections who lives in Renton.
Pamela Duncan, 50, grants manager for the United Way of Pierce County, was up at 5 a.m. texting friends and family back home in Ohio about the significance of the day before coming to the event at its new location, the Greater Tacoma Convention & Trade Center.
“We get to celebrate two awesome black men today,” she said.
Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland also noted the inauguration as she encouraged attendees to contemplate their own legacy and how they want to make their community, nation and world better.
“Go forth. Be brave and act,” she implored.
Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy said the area and the nation face vexing issues, among them helping the homeless and mentally ill, expanding the stock of affordable housing, and building a stronger economy. These challenges will not be overcome easily, she continued, but they can be met if people find, in King’s words, that “the time is always right to do what is right.”
“If we want a stronger community, if we want to have a brighter future we have to believe in each other,” she said. “We have to put our feet firmly on the ground and stand up for what’s right and what’s good.”
The keynote speaker, Clayborne Carson, told the audience that characterizations of King as a black civil rights leader shortchange him because his message of unity and equality crosses racial lines.
Carson wrote a play, “Passages of Martin Luther King,” that has been performed in China and Israel. Actors from those countries have portrayed King, his wife, Coretta, and Malcolm X.
“Martin Luther King has jumped American culture,” said Carson, a professor of African American studies at Stanford University who helped design King’s memorial in Washington, D.C., and was selected by King’s widow to edit and publish his papers. “He’s a person that means something around the world.”
He added, “I would just invite you to always keep expanding the vision of what this celebration can be, and I see how inclusive it is today and we would hope in 25 years it would be even more inclusive,” he said. “In a sense, Martin Luther King would be truly celebrated when every white American understands that this is a holiday for all Americans. It’s not just a black holiday.”
Tacoma City Manager T.C. Broadnax presented the MLK Community Service Award to four recipients: Betty Mewborn, founder of Sisters of Hope, which provides cancer support to people of color; Pana Mamea, senior pastor at Hilltop Christian Center; Cascade Park Communities, a Tacoma assisted living center; and the Tacoma Alumnae Chapter.
A videotape tribute honored Allen Correll, the former executive director of the city’s Human Rights and Human Services Department, who died in February.
Monday was the first time the event was not held in the exhibition hall at the Tacoma Dome. A city spokeswoman has said the move was made due to a larger-than-expected turnout and to give visitors better access to restaurants and shops.Christian Hill: 253-274-7390