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.
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.
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.