In a ceremony attended by hundreds on Monday, the City of Long Beach renamed the intersection of East Pine Street and Riverside Boulevard — where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once walked — MLK Way.
James Hodge, board chairman of the Martin Luther King Center, unveiled the street sign from atop a ladder as a crowd applauded on what would have been King’s 89th birthday.
“The extraordinary street renaming reinforces the City Council’s commitment to making Dr. King’s dream a reality,” Council President Anthony Eramo said. “Dr. King died fighting inequality, and this is an important step to ensure that his lessons live on in Long Beach forever.”
The ceremony capped a day of festivities honoring King. They began at City Hall with a brief ceremony, which was followed by a parade that ended with the street renaming.
“Racial equality should not just be the goal of the oppressed, but the goal of every American,” Eramo said at City Hall. “It’s up to us to make sure that in our homes, our schools, our places of work, one ideal is heard above all — that all men are created equal.”
County Legislator Denise Ford, State Assemblywoman Melissa Miller and clergy members joined city officials to speak on this year’s theme of “Reclaiming Our Time,” inspired by a quote made popular by a viral Internet video of U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters speaking at a House Financial Services Committee meeting last August.
“We reclaim this power as a nation to celebrate whoever we encounter on our daily path, regardless of their race, class, gender, sexual orientation, their faith, their physical or mental disability or challenge,” said Councilwoman Anissa Moore, who organized the ceremony. “We stand together as a city to recommit ourselves and do the work of justice, compassion and dignity for all — fair treatment, fair wages, truth and righteousness, peace and racial harmony.”
The Nehemiah Project, a local choir group, serenaded the audience before members of Girl Scout Troop 2005 recited quotes, lyrics and poetry excerpts that echoed the day’s message.
Hundreds of people, including State Sen. Todd Kaminsky and County Comptroller Jack Schnirman, then marched east along West Park Avenue from Laurelton Boulevard. Organized by the MLK Center, the procession followed in the footsteps of King when he visited Long Beach in 1965, touring the North Park neighborhood and watching a roof being installed on the Christian Light Missionary Baptist Church.
After the parade and street renaming, people gathered in the MLK Center, on Riverside Boulevard. In another emotional ceremony, the center honored the workers of the city’s Sanitation Department.
Lisa Hayes, acting director of the MLK Center, presented a plaque to the workers.
Hodge said that the center was inspired by the Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike of 1968, when about 1,300 men from the Memphis Department of Public Works refused to work after two garbage collectors were killed in a freak accident. King met with representatives of the Memphis department.
“We found it very fitting, when our sanitation workers are in the rain, sleet and snow doing the amazing work that they do, and sometimes people don’t give them enough credit,” Hodge said. “We wanted to make sure we highlight Martin Luther King’s whole movement and why he was down here. He was fighting for the sanitation workers to get benefits. He was fighting for the workers to get recognized.”
State Assemblyman Michael Blake, vice chairman of the National Democratic Committee, spoke about finding a purpose and delivering on promises. “For all of us who have the honor of being part of government,” Blake said, “we have the responsibility to help somebody, to fight for somebody, to continue to remind people that they gave us the honor to represent them.”