When James Reeb, a civil-rights activist, was clubbed to death by segregationists in 1965, the Rev. Robert Olmstead felt an immediate calling to travel from his home in the Bay Area to the Deep South to join the nonviolent resistance efforts spearheaded by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
There, the Oakland preacher joined other clergy members in Selma, Ala. He vividly recalls those days, in particular an incident in which he and others marched to a courthouse that had been barricaded and locked.
"Black school students were standing in front of the steps. The clergy stood on the outside of the circle where a white mob had gathered to scream and shout and spit [on and threaten us."
After enduring the mob's anger, he witnessed now-famous speeches by King and other leaders. Then, Olmstead said, he went back to work in the streets.
"We made our way back to the projects," he said. He became involved with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, learning nonviolent coordinating techniques and registering blacks to vote.
Through his participation in the Civil Rights movement, Olmstead said he witnessed hatred, bigotry and violence. Yet, to him, the main message of the era -- King's message -- was one of love.
"The word that you don't hear these days in discussions of racial relations is 'love,'" he added.
Olmstead will be sharing his memories of the past and his hopes for the future in a celebration of King's life at the First United Methodist Church on Sunday.
The Methodist celebration is one of several local events this weekend that aim to honor the legacy of King. Capping off the activities, Palo Alto's Civic Center Plaza will be renamed in honor of King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, on Monday.
MLK Community Celebration at the Boys and Girls Clubs of East Palo Alto
Friday, Jan. 18, at 6-7 p.m., 2031 Pulgas Ave., East Palo Alto
The Boys and Girls Clubs of the Peninsula, Redwood City's Parks, Recreation, and Community Services Department, and the Public Allies Silicon Valley are planning an event intended to educate and inspire.
Student from 10 different youth programs will watch a film about King and participate in workshops on the challenges King faced, his hope for future generations and his vision of social unity.
"This is an opportunity for youth to process King's words and relate his ideas to their own lives," said organizer Teri Chin.
The Boys and Girls Club will open its doors from 6 to 7 p.m. for a "community share-out," at which community members can hear the students' reflections on King's teachings.
"Just bringing the youth themselves together and giving them a chance to celebrate is worth it," Chin said.
First United Methodist Church's Annual MLK Community Celebration
Sunday, Jan. 20, at 3.p.m, 625 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto
Rev. Olmstead and community leader LaDoris Cordell will welcome the residents of Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, and neighboring communities in the church's annual celebration of King's dream of truth, peace, and justice.
The celebration is a joint effort between the First United Methodist Church and many area organizations, including the Peninsula Chapter of Links, Inc., a nation-wide association of black women, and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community and Interfaith Committee.
Representatives of the Covenant Presbyterian Church, the Jerusalem Baptist Church, the University AME Zion Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the Palo Alto Ministerial Association, and Stanford University's Rabbi Patricia Karlin-Neumann will be among those honoring King.
Loretta Green of the Links, Inc., expects a recitation by school children of a poem dedicated to King -- entitled "The Dreamer Sleeps" -- to be a highlight of the event.
Other performers include musicians Rhonda and Grady Harris from the Jerusalem Baptist Church; Nate Branch, a former Harlem Globetrotter; and other choristers.
"We must not lose sight of the America that we are creating, an America of many people and many traditions," Olmstead said in an interview Wednesday. King, he said, was a "deeply patriotic speaker ... who could not be more rooted in the spiritual tradition."
Monday, Jan. 21, departing San Jose Diridon station at 10 a.m., Palo Alto station at 10:29 a.m., arriving in San Francisco at 11:25 a.m.
Dr. Marquita Byrd, president of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Association of Santa Clara Valley, has teamed up with Caltrain to prepare for the 23rd annual Freedom Train commemorating the civil rights march between Selma and Montgomery, Ala.
"Mainly what I learned from Dr. King," Byrd said, "is that the ordinary citizen can change the social situation in their country. His most important message was that oppressed people can change society through nonviolent means."
Through the Freedom Train, riders will learn about local organizations, such as the Community Homeless Alliance and Stanford's Martin Luther King Jr. Papers Project. For some school children, the Freedom Train is an annual school event.
"We do it so that our children will understand the freedom rides. Getting on the Freedom Train and seeing all the people joining in the festivities, the students get a feel for what was going on in the 1960s. They hear the freedom songs and see the people marching. They understand why King marched, said Elisabeth Holcomb, principal of S.R. Martin College Prep.
Byrd invites community members to show up early to the train station in order to secure a seat.
Tickets cost $5 and are available only through the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Association of Santa Clara Valley. Additional information is available by calling 408-428-9551 or visiting the Association's Web site, http://www.mlkscv.org/mlk-freedom-train-san-jose-san-francisco.htm .
King Plaza Dedication
Monday, Jan. 21, at 2 p.m., 250 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto
The Kings will be honored on Monday at the King Plaza dedication ceremony.
"This event is not just important," former Palo Alto City Council member LaDoris Cordell said. "It's historic."
The naming of the plaza came after a heated political process that Cordell said is reminiscent of the difficulties the Kings faced in their lives.
"We've arrived here after a bumpy journey, and that struggle is symbolic of the one the Kings engaged in. But forever, this plaza will bear the name of the Kings. It is symbolic, and symbols are very important," she said.
Entertainment will be provided by The Stanford Gospel Choir and the Eastside Preparatory High School Choir.
Youth Community Service Organization, a partnership between the cities of East Palo Alto and Palo Alto, will be sponsoring a table with civil-rights facts and activities.
Speakers include former Council member Roy Clay, the first person of color on the Palo Alto council; Olmstead; Clarence Jones, King's former attorney and speechwriter; Cordell; and Vice Mayor Peter Drekmeier.
Drekmeier said that he was "surprised, growing up, that Palo Alto had not recognized Martin Luther King or Coretta Scott King the way that other communities had."
The message of the event, Drekmeier said, "is that we have come a long way but there is still a lot to be done."