OCEANSIDE — Fanfare and speeches will help to dedicate the freeway overpass bridge on Mission Avenue as the Martin Luther King, Jr. Bridge Sept. 26. This is the fourth city landmark to be named in honor of King.
A junior high school, city park and 2,000 foot corridor along Mesa Drive are also named to honor King.
Councilwoman Esther Sanchez came up with the idea of naming a centrally located city landmark after King. She formed a community committee of Oceanside civic leaders to select a landmark and see through the dedication process. The task took two years to complete.
Charles Adams, committee chair, said some people ask him why the city is naming a bridge after Martin Luther King, Jr. His response is his own accounts of serving as a U.S. Navy Corpsman at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, N.C., in the 1960s.
“I was a young man in the service when Dr. King was making his speeches,” Adams said. “I had to undergo some of that racist commie that was totally unbelievable.”
Adams said the town of Jacksonville was divided into distinct sections for white and black folks.
He described the section where white people lived as having nicely paved streets and sidewalks and the section where black people lived as having dirt roads.
Adams said one day a wrong turn found him in the white part of town. A police officer in a Ku Klux Klan hood pulled him over. Adams was wearing his Navy uniform, but because of his skin color the officer asked him why he was in that part of town and ordered him to lay face down on the ground.
“Ask me questions about Martin Luther King, Jr. and I can tell you stories that will keep you up all day long,” Adams said.
Adams said it is our responsibility to remind youth of King’s message to treat people with equality.
“Young people, unless we carry this word forward, have no idea who Martin Luther King, Jr. is,” he said. “During the 50th anniversary of the “I have a dream” speech children were coming forward saying ‘I didn’t know that.’ We want to continue the message.”
Adams said he was honored to be asked to serve on the naming committee. Fellow committee members are Gwen Sanders, Maria Russell, Diane Strader and Willie Little.
“We’re as diversified as you can have any group in Oceanside and as close today as the day we first came together two years ago,” Adams said.
The committee’s first job was to find a significant, centrally located landmark to name.
The bridge across the harbor was considered, but the committee quickly withdrew the request when they learned the bridge was being considered to honor fallen Oceanside police officer Dan Bessant.
“I knew him personally,” Adams said. “We made sure we stood before City Council as a committee and said there is no way we would go against that.”
The request was pulled and then the Mission Avenue bridge was considered.
The bridge stretches across I-5 and is heavily traveled by vehicles entering Oceanside and students attending Oceanside High School.
Russell said the symbolism of the bridge as a crossroad to education and adulthood for students made it the perfect landmark to carry the message of equality and hope that King stood for.
The committee collected support signatures and got an OK from City Council in November 2012.
Logistics of naming the state bridge also involved getting State Assembly approval. Former Oceanside councilman and current Assemblyman Rocky Chavez helped get the item approved in July.
Bridge dedication ceremonies will take place at Oceanside High School on Sept. 26 at 10:30 a.m.
Oceanside resident and football legend Willie Buchanan will be the keynote speaker and student dance groups will perform. The public is invited to attend.