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Barry Schrader
Columnist

 

I currently have columns running in 3 newspapers;

  • Tri-Valley Herald : Looking Back
  • Valley Times : Do You Remember?
  • The Independent : Do You Remember?

The Articles appear in the Herald and Independent on Thursdays,
and the Times on Sundays.

They will also be found on this page each week as well.

 

If you've missed any please follow the links on the dates to catch up.

Archive Page

Martin Luther King's visit to the Tri-Valley

By Barry Schrader..................................January 16, 2005

A person has few opportunities to get up close and personal with some of our greater historical figures-I was fortunate to see Martin Luther King twice back in the 1960s, once up close.
My first exposure to him was while in college and our Methodist Wesleyan student group took a bus into Chicago for a Southern Christian Leadership rally at Soldier Field. There we heard several speakers, among them the Rev. King, who stood out in my memory as one of the greatest charismatic figures I have ever encountered. The emotional ending to that gathering was all of us in the stadium joining hands and singing "We Shall Overcome."
Then on January 14, 1968, while I was editor here is the Tri-Valley, we learned that Dr. King would be coming to Santa Rita Jail to visit his friend Joan Baez, her mother, and Ira Sandperl, who had been imprisoned for leading an anti-war demonstration a few days earlier in Oakland at the induction center. Sensing what a momentous occasion this would be for the valley, I sent two staffers, plus stationed myself outside the gates of Santa Rita that cold, rainy Sunday morning, to try and get an interview with this great man. Associate Editor John Oliver had good contacts with the Sheriff's Department so he got inside the gates at the front desk where King would pass by. I carried a reel-to-reel portable tape recorder and my Yashica camera and positioned myself next to the Rev. King's car just outside the gate. There were some 200 other people who also found out about his visit, mostly Berkeley students and anti-war activists, gathered in a line along the roadway leading to the jail with signs and banners, mostly anti-war slogans.
When he and his entourage exited the jail compound and headed for his car, the crowd began to cheer and sing. He immediately recognized the opportunity to address them and got on the edge of the car door frame (running board) and spoke in such a clear, booming voice that they could hear every word. I had my mike about three feet from him, and I still have that tape, which my friend Ken Wyman has just converted into a DVD, so I can share it with others who admire this man as much as I do.
After about 10 minutes of remarks he paused to answer some of our questions, with three or four newspeople gathered close to his car. I took the opportunity to also snap a closeup of him, which appeared on the front page of the Monday paper, but unfortunately the page makeup editor attached another newsman's name to the photo credit line.
When I got back to the newspaper office, I gave the tape recorder to John Oliver to write the story, as I had to do Sunday duty in the darkroom and develop and print the rolls of film from my camera and those of the other reporters (Jim Lewis and John). So I didn't get to write the bylined story on his visit either! But John and I still reminisce about our close encounter with Dr. King and cherish that experience to this day.
Something he said to the crowd has stuck with me all these years: "Cowards will ask the question: 'Is it safe?' Expedience will ask: 'Is it politic?' Vanity asks the question: 'Is it popular?' But Conscience asks the question: 'Is it right?' There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right!"
He was such a spellbinder. As a young, impressionable journalist of 27 I was overwhelmed by his presence, his message, his Nobel laureate status, and even the fact he had taken the time to fly out from Atlanta just to give morale support to Joan Baez. It was the day before his 39th birthday. Little did we know it was his last trip to California. Three months later, April 4, 1968, he was assassinated on a motel balcony in Memphis. What a loss to the world!
Looking back at my life today, I wonder what more I could have done to "talk his talk and walk his walk."
A few years ago I joined with some other Sandia employees to write a joint letter to management asking them to recognize Dr. King's birthday by declaring a holiday like all the other federal institutions along with state and local governments. To this day I don't understand why the Department of Energy doesn't require Sandia to shut down on this day. It seems to be the only government-owned, contractor-operated facility in the nation to conduct business as usual on the third Monday of each January. I would hope that the African-American leadership group at Sandia in both Albuquerque and Livermore keep protesting this. Brenda McFarland, do you remember? Then don't give up the good fight!

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Next week's question ties in with the upcoming inauguration of our President on January 20th. How many US Presidents have visited the Tri-Valley, either before or during their terms?

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The columnist can be reached via email at :

Historian2sbcglobal.net

or by snailmail at:

Barry Schrader
PO Box 446
Livermore, CA. 94551

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