Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy in San Diego

Where to remember the civil rights leader and event to observe MLK Day

MLK promenade in the Gaslamp Quarter.

MLK promenade in the Gaslamp Quarter. | Photo via Canva

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In 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood in front of thousands of San Diego college students and declared, “I am convinced, deep in my heart, that by using non-violence we can turn racial discord into a symphony of brotherhood.”

The MLK Jr. + Mount Hope Community Mural Project on SR-94.

The MLK Jr. + Mount Hope Community Mural Project on SR-94. | Photo via Caltrans San Diego

In 1971, San Diego Mayor Frank Curran declared January 15 “Martin Luther King Day” – three years after the civil rights icon was murdered and 12 years before Presiden Ronald Reagan declared the holiday at a federal level.

San Diego’s relationship with Dr. King began during his lifetime, but his exact number of local visits is not definitively known. He visited Calvary Baptist Church in Barrio Logan in 1962 where he addressed the costs of prejudice as he fought against racial segregation. His 1964 speech was delivered at both San Diego State University and Point Loma Nazarene University (then known as California Western University). SDSU’s Cal Coast Credit Union Open Air Theatre now has a plaque remembering this occasion. but his exact number of local visits is not definitively known.

Breaking of the Chains by Mel Edwards at MLK Promenade in San Diego

“Breaking of the Chains” by Mel Edwards

Photo by Michael Beausoleil + SDtoday

Modern day San Diegans can find tributes to Dr. King across the city. The Gaslamp Quarter’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Promenade is a 0.6-mile linear park lined with quotes and artwork — like Melvin Edwards’ “Breaking of the Chains” added in 1995.

Drivers see tributes on a daily basis. A 10-mile stretch of the California 94 Freeway (SR-94 to locals) has been named Martin Luther King Jr. Freeway — decorated with murals in his honor.

In Broadway Heights, you might turn onto Martin Luther King Jr. Way, and his face can be seen on a Mountain View mural of civil rights leaders at the cross between Ocean View Boulevard and S. 35th Street.

Most importantly, Dr. King’s legacy is displayed through San Diegans who serve our community + and fight for equality. National City’s community center is named in his honor, and the city has many events commemorating MLK Day.

The mural at the WorldBeat Cultural Center at Balboa Park

Find this mural outside the WorldBeat Cultural Center.

Photo via @divalins

2024 MLK Day Observations

Looking for observations in San Diego in January 2024? These events, hosted by local organizations, honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.:

  • 42nd Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parade | Sunday, Jan. 14 | 10 a.m. | North Harbor Drive, Waterfront Park to Seaport Village, San Diego | Free | This parade marches 1.2 miles and honors MLK with floats, marching bands, and performances from local organizations.
  • MLK 5K Run/Walk | Sunday, Jan. 14 | 9:30-11 a.m. | Embarcadero, 1492 N. Harbor Dr., San Diego | $20-$30 | This 5K supports local youth scholarship opportunities and starts near the County Administration Building and ends near Ruocco Park.
  • San Diego MLK Festival | Sunday, Jan. 14 | 9:30 a.m.-2 p.m. | Ruocco Park, 585 Harbor Lane, San Diego | Free | Celebrate MLK’s legacy at this “Harmony Health Fest” with vendors, activities, and workshops focused on living a healthy lifestyle.
  • 35th Annual Martin Luther King Day Celebration | Monday, Jan. 15 | 12-6 p.m. | WorldBeat Cultural Center, 2100 Park Blvd., San Diego | Free | Celebrate unity at this family-friendly event with a Native American blessing, vendors, speakers, music, and more.
  • Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Sportsfest and Community Celebration | Saturday, Jan. 20 | 9 a.m. | Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center, 6401 Skyline Dr., San Diego | Free | Honor MLK with a parade at 9 a.m. followed by a celebration at 11 a.m. with entertainment, a health and wellness pavilion, food vendors, and community resources.