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Martin Luther King Jr. remembered as bringing hope
1929: Born on Jan. 15 to the Rev. Martin Luther King Sr. and Alberta Williams King.
1944: Begins studies at Morehouse College in Atlanta at age 15.
1948: Enters Crozer Theological Seminary.
1951: Begins graduate studies at Boston University.
1953: Marries Coretta Scott at her parent's home in Alabama.
1955: Receives doctorate in Systematic Theology from Boston College.
1955: Leads Montgomery bus boycott, prompted by arrest of Rosa Parks.
1956: Bus segregation ruled illegal by the US Supreme Court.
1960: Arrested for a sit-in at a restaurant in Greensboro, NC.
1961: Interstate Commerce Commission bans segregated interstate travel.
1963: King writes famous Letter from Birmingham jail after being arrested.
1963: Leads 125,000 people in a Freedom Walk in Detroit.
1963: Joins 250,000 in March on Washington. Delivers "I Have a Dream" speech.
1964: Receives Nobel Peace Prize.
1966: King helps lead March Against Fear.
1968: King is assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn.
1986: President Ronald Reagan signs law declaring the third Monday in January — Martin Luther King Jr. Day — a federal holiday.
They remember poll taxes, segregated schools, and lunch counters that refused service to black Americans.
Mary Alice Shumate, 73, literacy director at the Sutter County Library, and Randolph Deas, 65, funeral director at Ullrey Memorial Chapel in Yuba City, spent their formative years in the land where Jim Crow ran roughshod over civil rights.
Each unknowingly witnessed history unfolding as their families and communities embraced acts of civil disobedience encouraged by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
"He was the rock of all black communities," said Deas, who grew up in Jacksonville, Fla.
"My aunt was born in 1900 and my grandmother was born in 1903," said Shumate, who grew up in Vicksburg, Miss. "I don't think they ever imagined there would be a man like Martin Luther King."
Last week, Shumate, Deas and the Pogue sisters of Marysville — Carol Pogue, 81, Barbara Pogue Roberts, 85, and Sally Pogue Adams, 77 — shared their memories about race relations prior to and during the King era of the 1950s and 1960s, and talked about King's legacy.
"I was in the South during hardcore segregation. I was brought up in it," Shumate said.
In substandard black schools, "If you got a book at all, it was old and raggedy."
Her grandmother was taken out of school in the third grade to pick crops and help the family out financially.
"That generation really had it hard. They were field workers and domestic workers, and they worked for pennies a week," Shumate said. "But they promoted education for their children sitting at the back of the bus. They knew to do that."
Shumate recalled her grandmother's insistence on voting — in spite of having to pass a literacy test and pay a $2 poll tax.
"I remember neighbors saying, 'Miss Alice, you know those white folks didn't count your vote,' but that didn't bother her. She was very proud of voting."
Spotlight on the South
The pride embodied in her grandmother's act, Shumate said, was something that King managed to capture and to promote throughout the black South.
"He (King) let us know the law would be there for us and that we were as valuable as any other Americans," she said.
In the late 1950s, shortly after Shumate began attending college in California, she got an opportunity to hear Martin Luther King Jr. speak.
"It was at the chapel at USC. Only about 200 people were there — mostly white ministers who wanted to see what he was really like," she said.
At that time, King was already a household name among black Southerners. His sermons, rallies and tireless promotion of "civil disobedience" and "political nonviolence," as the means to influence change, had already made waves and sparked retaliation in Southern cities.
But television had not yet made him well-known to white America and had not yet brought American racism — in particular, the South's treatment of black Americans — to the attention of the world.
Deas was just a child during those early years of King's activism.
"When I came up, everything was segregated — water fountains, restrooms … The most memorable thing was when my grandmother took me to Woolworth's department store. We couldn't get served at the counter. We had to go around to the back."
At age 18, a few years after King's 1963 March on Washington, Deas took his future wife — then 17 — to a movie theater in the white part of town to see "The Ten Commandments." The couple endured taunting and harassment, Deas said, just to see what it was like on the other side of the racial divide.
"It was a real eye-opener. They had cushioned seats, and the snack bar was nice and clean," Deas said.
The theaters where blacks were permitted were a different story.
"We were on wooden benches that weren't fastened to the ground. We had rats runnin' all over our feet through the whole show," he said.
Road to change
"It was very difficult in those days when 'separate but equal' was key," Deas said of the legal doctrine used to justify segregated schools. But even after 1954 when the Supreme Court determined separate schools for black and white students were inherently unequal, change was slow in coming.
Those who felt threatened by racial equity made life even more difficult for black communities.
King stepped into that context and used the pulpit and spotlight to encourage community action. He did so through the group he helped found, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and with the help of existing black leadership.
"My grandfather was really heavy in the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People)," said Deas. They were always recruiting for marches at church, which was — and still is — the foundation of the black community. They were getting people involved with change."
"Martin Luther King never criticized other people. That was not part of his message," Shumate said. "He was a great role model and example for poor people, not just African Americans."
"That one man brought so much hope and inspiration," she said. "I believe King is even more valuable today than he was then."
CONTACT Nancy Pasternack at firstname.lastname@example.org or 749-4781. Find her on Facebook at /ADnpasternack or on Twitter at @ADnpasternack.