Celebrating King, Voting Rights

Celebrating King, Voting Rights
On Jan. 17, hundreds of Fresno residents marched through downtown to celebrate the life and work of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Photo by Peter Maiden

By Community Alliance Staff

On Jan. 17, hundreds of Fresno residents marched through downtown to celebrate the life and work of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was assassinated in 1968. This year, the celebration has a special meaning as voting rights are under fire from Republicans and conservatives of both parties. The King family called for action on the pending voting rights legislation, the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act.

Marchers approach the Veterans Memorial Auditorium on Fresno Street. Photo by Peter Maiden

The John R. Lewis Act would standardize voting laws across the country and significantly expand voting access by reversing the effects of dozens of new state-level voting restrictions passed in 2021. The John Lewis bill would also restore key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that have been struck down or weakened by the Supreme Court.

On Jan. 17, Martin Luther King III—the oldest son and oldest living child of Dr. King and his later wife, Coretta Scott King—visited Arizona, where he criticized Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema, whose refusal to change the Senate’s Jim Crow–era filibuster rules makes voting rights legislation unlikely to pass.

Priscilla Thomas holds a sign harkening back to Dr. King’s campaign for voting rights in the 1960s, as voting rights are once again front and center before the Senate. Photo by Peter Maiden

Sinema isn’t alone. Another Democratic senator, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, is constantly siding with conservatives in Congress to torpedo President Biden’s voting rights agenda.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a champion of labor, voting and equal housing rights as he led a movement against racism. In 1963, he co-organized the March on Washington where he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. In 1964, he received the Nobel Prize. He was arrested, spied upon and received a life-threatening letter apparently written by the FBI, the agency that considered him a “communist.”

This was the 38th annual celebration in Fresno.

MLK Day marks the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. and is a federal holiday, observed on the third Monday of January each year.

Community figures hold aloft a portrait of Dr. King. They are (l to r) Terri Kimber Edwards, daughter of the late Les Kimber, the first Black City Council member in Fresno; Mayor Jerry Dyer; Rep. Jim Costa; and renowned pacifist Dr. Sudarshan Kapoor. Hundreds of people attended the event. Photo by Peter Maiden

Members of the Fresno State chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People gather before the march. Photo by Peter Maiden

Dr. King’s Connections to Fresno

By Daren A. Miller

In 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visited Fresno to support the Rumford Fair Housing Act. An event was organized to advocate for fair housing in the city that started with a march from the Fresno City College campus to Ratcliffe Stadium. In the stadium, Dr. King addressed an assembled crowd stressing the importance of unity and solidarity in the fight for fair housing. This was Dr. King’s only physical visit to Fresno.

Local members of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., joined by Mark Kimber, preparing to participate in the 2022 MLK Jr. Day Unity March. Dr. King is the most renowned member of the organization. Photo by Peter Maiden

Since 1982, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Unity Committee has sponsored a march in Fresno honoring his life and legacy. Fresno is known as one of the first cities in the country to recognize MLK Day. Even before President Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law in 1983, Fresno was recognizing the third Monday of January for Dr. King.

Fresno is also connected to Dr. King in another way. In 1952, while attending Boston University, Dr. King became a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., the oldest fraternity created for college-educated African American (Black) men. He is recognized as one of the most renowned members of the organization.

Alpha Phi Alpha, established on the campus of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., in 1906, has more than 680 college and alumni chapters across the world. Nearly 300,000 college-educated men of all ethnicities have become members.

 In the crowd listening to speakers in front of City Hall. Photo by Peter Maiden

Fresno is home to two of the chapters. The Epsilon Beta chapter was established on the campus of Fresno State College in 1956, and the Iota Nu Lambda chapter was created in 1970 to serve the local alumni members. Both the college and alumni chapters have participated in every Fresno MLK Day celebration since its inception.

Local prominent elder members are Columbus Craig, Cecil Smith, Nadar Ali, Harry Miller and Charles Francis. Outstanding younger local members include Fresno Police Deputy Chief Phillip Cooley and City of Fresno Deputy Mayor Matthew Grundy.

Antiwar activists on the march, which went from St. John Church to City Hall and then to Veterans Memorial Auditorium. Photo by Peter Maiden


  • Community Alliance

    The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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