"Although there were many, many people involved in the civil rights movement, the face of King is destined to stand out because of his dedication, his commitment and his ultimate sacrifice," she said. "Our whole nation has been affected."
Those in attendance played witness to moments of moving, patriotic music, the story of El Centro resident Rosalind Summers' mother and her interactions with King and a stirring, word for word re-enactment of King's "I Have A Dream" speech by NAACP board member and El Centro resident Wallace Phillips.
Phillips, a last-minute replacement for Walter Beasley Sr., who reads the speech every year but could not attend Saturday, captivated those assembled with his even, heartfelt reading, which came to a dramatic crescendo.
"When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God, Almighty, we are free at last!'"
Summers told of her upbringing in New Orleans where her mother, Margaret Esteen, marched with King in his fight for civil rights.
She said her mother first met King when he showed parents at Rosalind Summers' school how to vote. After that, Summers said, her mother followed King in nearly every march or sit-in she could.
When King was shot by James Earl Ray in 1968, Esteen, who only had an eighth-grade education, was inspired to write a poem about the man, "Moses in Our Days," which Esteen sent to Coretta Scott King.
Esteen writes "God had in the midst of us a black Moses" to tenderly describe King, who she sees wearing "the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of faith …"
Summers said not long after the poem was sent to Mrs. King, she wrote Esteen back to say thanks and to keep up the good fight.
Music also was a big part of Saturday's King celebration, from local Korean War vet Joaquin Reclosado leading members of the audience and his fellow veterans in a number of patriotic numbers honoring U.S. military, to El Centro City Councilman Ray Castillo singing "God Bless America" while playing his acoustic guitar, to Lincoln Elementary School Principal Michael Minnix leading the crowd through "My Country 'Tis of Thee" as well as asking everyone to hold hands and sing "We Shall Overcome."
With the event emceed by Dilda McFaddin of El Centro and opening prayers offered by Pastor Todd Evangelist, a host of local officials offered their thoughts on King and his legacy.
Imperial County Supervisor Wally Leimgruber put King's teaching in the context of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.
He said King fought prejudice and the evil that was tearing the country apart during the civil rights era, adding the world can learn something by keeping King's dreams of peace alive and fighting the evildoers of Sept. 11 who mean to disrupt our way of life.
He added, "If were not for King, I don't know if we could've peacefully assembled here today …"
Korean War Veterans Association member Ray Downs, a 40-year member of the NAACP, said, "I'm for civil rights. I don't like people that aren't. I don't associate with people that aren't for civil rights."
McFaddin, of El Centro, told those assembled through King's efforts African-Americans have had many new opportunities open to them, but, he added, there's still a ways to go.
"We've come a long way, but we've got a long way to go," he said, going on to describe a situation that happened Saturday morning in which he was repeatedly asked what he was doing in a certain building even after showing several forms of identification.
Implying that morning's occurrence had everything to do with the color of his skin, McFaddin said, "In my mind, I truly knew that things had not changed."
McFaddin then went on to challenge this newspaper to ask the man on the street, "How much has really changed since King's death?"
After the presentations on the courthouse steps, a handful of those in attendance participated in the "Let Freedom Ring" march that took walkers down Eighth Street to Bucklin Park, where a celebration with food, drinks and entertainment finished off the day.