Credit: Sarah Stephens

A canvas cloth painted with yellow and black messages calling for peaceful unrest hung on the corner of State and Anapamu streets Monday evening, April 4, as people gathered to commemorate the 54th anniversary of the assassination of civil rights leader and peace activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The event was a public reading of King’s now-famous speech “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” which he delivered during the height of the war. Organized by the Santa Barbara branch of the California Poor People’s Campaign, the public reading, which could also be seen over Zoom, began exactly at 6:01 p.m., the time when Dr. King was pronounced dead in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968. 

This was the group’s first public action, and it began with speeches condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine as well as of the size of the United States military budget. The readers, volunteers from the Santa Barbara community, included Councilmember Oscar Gutierrez, S.B. Unified School District board member Wendy Sims-Moten, and poet and peace activist Sojourner Kincaid Rolle. The tone was solemn as the volunteers read portions of King’s speech calling for an end to poverty and war. The clanging of a brass bowl signified the end of each portion of the recital.

The Santa Barbara group, which was co-founded by Karen Rice and Matt Lowe in September of last year, called on the United States “to reverse course and turn toward humanity, law, and decency” and honored Dr. King’s legacy of opposing militarism, racism, and poverty — “the axis of evil in the struggle for peace and justice.” It is part of a nationwide effort to mobilize a Moral March on Washington, D.C. on June 18. 

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