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Diverse Crowd Honors King

Tue., Jan. 20, 1998

For most of the area, Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday was a bonus day off to hit the sales, hit the slopes or catch a hit movie.

Then there was Bill Fedora, who celebrated Monday’s holiday in earnest.

The white 54-year-old excavator drove all the way from the snow-capped mountains near Priest River, Idaho, to downtown Spokane, where he joined his very first civil rights march.

“I’ve never done anything like this in my life,” said Fedora. “Basically, I wanted to honor a man who had the guts to speak his heart.”

Minutes before marching from the Spokane Convention Center to the Masonic Temple, Fedora stood in the steady drizzle with several hundred others who had heeded a similar call.

Blacks, whites, Asians, Hispanics … The crowd was a mixed bag of humanity - young and old - underscoring King’s enduring and diverse appeal.

Valentina Garcia-Loste, a 16-year-old Lewis and Clark High School student, marched with her friend, Kaitlan Monroe, 16.

“We’re here to show that there is a side to Spokane that doesn’t want to stay small-minded,” said Garcia-Loste.

Former Spokane Mayor Sheri Barnard came to recall a painful past. “I grew up in the South. I saw signs on buses that said, ‘Colored, please move to rear.’ That’s why I’m here - so that never happens again.”

Martin Luther King Jr. was an eloquent, thoughtful preacher who resisted the racial bigotry of the times while emulating Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent approach to protest. King was cut down by an assassin’s bullet 30 years ago this April 4.

Bernice Buchanan remembers well the struggle. Standing a few feet from Fedora, who listened intently, the middle-aged woman spoke of being the first black girl to integrate the library in her Mississippi town.

It was 1963, she said. Just 16, Buchanan was part of the growing movement challenging the South’s insidious color code.

Segregation practices that seem unbelievably ridiculous and cruel today were common back then. Toilets, buses, restaurants, libraries, schools - every part of life was divided by a color barrier.

“We got our library cards OK, but on the way out, there was an incident,” said Buchanan. “One guy came up from nowhere and knocked me back.”

Her friend was beaten, Buchanan said, but people involved in the fight for equality never considered giving up. “We felt the cause was bigger than life. We always sang the song, ‘Before I’ll Be a Slave, I’ll Be Buried in my Grave.’ It was scary; we were always afraid, but that’s how it was. It was hot, hard and heavy.”

Monday’s march, in stark contrast, was cold, slow and uneventful. Some participants carried signs protesting state Initiative 200 - which, depending on your political take, calls for an end to affirmative action or an end to race-based preferences.

Many marchers carried umbrellas. A few souls tried to rekindle the 1960s by singing “This Land Is Your Land” and “Down by the Riverside.” It didn’t take.

At the Masonic Temple, 1108 W. Riverside, the crowd funneled downstairs into a banquet room for a program which evoked King’s social conscience and Christian theology.

Only one brief moment of discord was observed.

During a touching moment of honesty, Spokane Mayor John Talbott confessed not having paid enough attention to King in the past. He vowed to better follow King’s example.

“When you see I’m slipping or making a mistake - and I will - remind me,” said the mayor.

“Ohhhh, we will,” came a mournfully snide voice from the crowd.

After the speeches and prayers had ended, the crowd began to trickle out to the familiar strains of “We Shall Overcome.”

Near the door, Fedora seemed pleased by his first venture as a civil rights activist.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “But I think I want to know more about the Martin Luther King. Yes, I want to learn more about him.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Photos (1 color)

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