Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy in San Diego

MLK promenade in the Gaslamp Quarter.
MLK promenade in the Gaslamp Quarter. | Photo via Canva

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 

Today we celebrate the life of a man who peacefully pushed for equality. In 1971, San Diego Mayor Frank Curran declared January 15 “Martin Luther King Day” – three years after the civil rights icon was murdered + 12 years before Ronald Regan declared the holiday at a federal level.

Our city’s relationship with Dr. King began during his lifetime and extends to the present day. 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 + 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.

“Breaking of the Chains,” seen while walking the MLK Promenade. | Photo via @ljoymiller

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 + artwork — like Melvin Edwards’s “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 + 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 — like WorldBeat’s 33rd annual celebration in Balboa Park and HandsOn San Diego’s volunteer opportunities across the county.