Santa Clarita residents said they have been positively affected by the work of prominent civil rights movement leader Martin Luther King Jr., who was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, 50 years ago on April 4, 1968.
Pastor Julius Harper, leader of Santa Clarita Christian Fellowship, was 10 years old when King was assassinated. He recalled being aware of the riots and unrest in the country during the civil rights era and there being “an atmosphere that there is something unusual happening.”
King, who was 39 when he was killed, was a primary leader of peaceful protests throughout the South and instrumental in the passage of civil and voting rights legislation for black Americans. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize at 35.
Change came for young Harper in the aftermath of King’s shooting, when he was transferred from attending an inner city school to being bussed to attend a suburban school in his home state of Connecticut.
“When there was (King’s) killing, there was a lot of questioning going on as to what was going to happen next,” he said. “I remember the riots. I remember people being very much afraid… but then I remember things began to change very quickly. I didn’t realize as a child that out of that killing there would come a number of political changes that would impact me very greatly.”
Days after King’s assassination, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which included provisions prohibiting discrimination for housing on the basis of race. Harper said he was among the generation of people that benefited most greatly from the civil rights movement.
“We always remember Dr. King as a tragic figure with feelings of regret and concern that he lost his life,” he said. “But we realize that out of his situation flowed a reality that we lived in which made our lives different, very different than our parents and even our older siblings.”
Young people protesting legislation mirror King’s spirit in striving for change, said Philip Germain, chair of 25UP.
Germain, 20, saw parallels between current protests around the nation such as the March For Our Lives movement against gun violence and the civil rights movement era’s political climate.
“Each generation has its moment to make an impact in history,” Germain said of current activism. “The generation of MLK was astounding, overturning trends of degradation of an entire group in society. They said, ‘We’ve had enough,’ and the massive movement that sparked shows people the true power an individual can have. You have a voice no matter what.”
Independent television producer Gloria Locke said King and the movement influenced the way many people see the world.
“The changes (from the movement) have benefited people in all ways,” she said. “One of those ways is being able to freely walk into restaurants and into a voting booth with equal opportunities. I teach, so I feel that that’s part of the dream, where people realize that everybody has a gift, talents and something to offer to the world.”
On the other hand, King’s dream still has components that need to be addressed, and that is why people continue to protest, Locke said.
“There is systemic racism that we can see rearing its ugly head in various parts of society,” she said. “We continue to, as Dr. King did, love the people yet take a stand against injustice and that i think is the main message that I take with me everywhere I go no matter how people treat me. I want to have a character like Dr. King that is willing to go the whole distance still with love and attain a goal and reach the dream that he fought for and died for.”
Harper said the 50th anniversary was a significant moment for all to embrace, but progress could still be made.
“We’re living in a world where we can celebrate tremendous progress, while at the same time, acknowledging there’s still a sense of frustration and dismay,” he said. “We need to challenge ourselves to do better, while at the same time as a society being proud of the fact that we have done some things that no other nation has ever accomplished.”