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Fresno leaders remember MLK, look to further his dream at Discover Fresno, Feb. 9

At the height of the 1963 civil rights movement, he addressed 250,000 listeners in his “I Have a Dream” speech. The pastor preached his vision for freedom and equality for all. The pastor campaigned for freedom and equality.

Community and national leaders continue to pursue Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream of equality and freedom for all. However, in the Fresno community, leaders still look to continue to fulfill King’s ideology.

courtesy Dr. Marius

Dr. Fitzalbert M. Marius painted “Ascension and Descension” in the ’60s. The oil painting stands seven feet tall and wraps from the bottom left to the upper right. Dr. Marius discusses the themes in the painting in the embedded podcast.

Senior pastor of Saint Rest Baptist Church, David J. Criner Jr., shares Dr. King’s ideologies and philosophies. Criner began preaching as a ten-year-old and has lead the church since 2013. He also teaches as a adjunct professor at Fresno Pacific University.

“Dr. King adopted this idea that we can do more by turning the other cheek than slapping someone on the other cheek,” Pastor Criner said. “His mindset was not a passive perspective but an aggressive one, but aggressively causing your aggressor to show how aggressive they are based on the color of their skin.

“Today, we only see him as this nonviolent passive individual that America loves,” Criner continued. “We have to remember that in the 50s and 60s, Dr. King was number one on the FBI’s most wanted list.”

Senior pastor at Westside Church of God, Dr. Paul Lawrence Binion grew up in Alabama, moving to Los Angeles, and then to Fresno in 1977.

“He (Martin Luther King, Jr.) brought awareness to the reality of American life,” Binion said. “Where the institutions themselves were established and set up to keep black people in a certain place. The promises of the Constitution were not being made available.”

Binion’s father fought in WWII, but when he returned home, Binion saw that the freedoms his father served to protect were denied.

“He fought in World War II, fought to keep our country free,” Pastor Binion said. “When he came back to America as he was former to the war, opportunities were not made available. What Dr. King did was prick the conscious of America and show the hypocrisies.”

In June of 1964, during his campaign of civil rights activism, Dr. King visited Fresno, and spoke at Ratcliffe Stadium. Dr. Fitzalbert M. Marius was at the Fresno rally and became active in the civil rights movement.

Marius served as a chairman of the committee of Black Education affairs in Fresno. According to Marius, only 30 African American students were enrolled at Fresno State University in 1968.

“Our committee got active in dealing with those things, and we wound up being (phone) tapped by the FBI for two years, Dr. Marius said.”

While Dr. Marius is Fresno’s first black surgeon, he also is an author and artist. He explains his painting, “Ascension and Descension,” to editor Sam Cross in the following podcast, Jan. 9.

Marius came to Fresno to complete his internship at Fresno County General Hospital (Valley Medical Center). During his time as an intern at the hospital, white married interns were given apartments to live in, while Marius and the three other married black interns were told they “ran out” of apartments and needed to find their own housing.

“Back when I came to Fresno, blacks could only live on the westside,” Dr. Marius said. “There was no such thing as a black living on the north side. The city was divided. The majority of blacks are still on the westside of Fresno, but blacks can live anywhere in Fresno (today) if they have the economic ability to live there.”

African Americans in Fresno lived on the west side, segregated from their Caucasian counterparts. A common practice to segregate communities, redlining restricted the housing available for black people.

Fresno City College remembers Martin Luther visiting Ratcliffe Stadium in the following tweet.

Today, Binion sees southwest Fresno as a diverse area of the city, but recognizes the region’s lack of development.

“Now, Fresno is quite diverse,” Binion said. “Even southwest Fresno may be the most diverse area of town with regard to blacks, Hispanics and Asians.”

During Dr. King’s “I have a Dream” speech, he says, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'” Binion believes parts of Fresno are neglected and disregarded.

Pastor Criner discusses Martin Luther King, Jr.’s leadership with editor Sam Cross in the following podcast, Jan. 8.

“To me, there is great inequity in our city,” Binion said. “Southwest Fresno is the most ignored, overlooked and underdeveloped area of Fresno. The divide is there. One developer told me: ‘We don’t build in southwest Fresno because the city hasn’t bothered to invest in infrastructure.’”

Pastor Criner believes in the church’s responsibility to social justice within the community. He seeks to use resources to improve the lives of residents through action.

“Our job is to be advocates for those that are looking for advocacy,” Criner said. “Our job is to get out into the streets and see that if there are neighborhoods that have boarded up homes; our job is to make sure that those boards come down and someone moves in them so they are not crack houses or homes that can provide an opportunity for pedophiles to take kids in.”

Courtesy Fitzalbert M. Marius

Dr. Marius illustrated several key civil rights figures, including Martin Luther King, Jr.

Criner serves the community through working with Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer on race relations, former Mayor Ashley Swearengin’s Task Force and chairman of the Faith In Fresno board along with other things.

“We become that,” Criner continued. “It’s our responsibility as a church. It’s not simply to stand up on a Sunday and collect tithes. It’s to use what has been given to us, the resources, financially, physically and the people. The ability to go out there and say, ‘That’s wrong and we serve a right God. Let’s fix the wrong with the right God.’”

Binion shares the perceived lack of representation of the black community in Fresno, but also recognizes the small percentage of the total population African Americans make up in Fresno County.

“Africans are still very underrepresented politically,” Binion said. “At this point, we have no city council person at all. But the reality is that, that the African American population is very small. We tend to be very vocal, but the reality is, statistically, we are only six to eight percent of the population of Fresno County.

Along with Criner, Binion serves on the Police Advisory Council. He also is a State of California Advisory board member, serves with Central California Evangelicals for Social Action and many other organizations.

“I remember a time when our city manager was black and we had city council, but really we are such a small part of the total population,” Binion continued. “I feel we don’t have much representation. There is not a voice for us really. We have to go out of our way to express our concerns.”

Dr. Marius also shares his view on the change in society towards African American people.

Sam Cross | The Feather Online

Dr. Paul Lawrence Binion, senior pastor at Westside Church of God, serves on the Police Advisory Council and with many other local organizations.

“None of this happened (social change) over night,” Marius said. “It came into existence over a long period of time. Nothing that comes into existence over a long period of time disappears overnight.”

Sam Cross continues to gather information in the weeks to come and plans to publish part two this series in three weeks. He hopes to share different and/or varying perspectives and community stories on this topic.

In Fresno, members of the community participate in a march at 9:15 a.m. from St. John’s Catholic Church to the Veterans’ Memorial Auditorium, Jan. 21. President of Fresno Pacific University, Joseph Jones speaks at Veterans’ Memorial Auditorium, Jan. 21.

For another perspective on this topic, read Residents discuss Fresno’s north-south divide by editor Alexander Rurik on Oct. 26, 2018, and  COLUMN: Racial injustice solution lies within us, by then Feather reporter John Dooman, after attending the ‘Hope Fresno’ event at The Well Community Church, Feb. 6, 2015. Last year Cross also wrote a two-part series on Fresno homelessness: Fresno residents reflect on homeless crisis, pt. 1 and Fresno residents reflect on homeless crisis, pt. 2.

The Feather Online will next cover the Discover Fresno: A Cultural Event, Feb. 9. The staff hopes to learn how to become more involved with local community . partners to share the needs of vulnerable voices in our city and how to become active in service. Look for the article Discover Fresno encourages engagement with local organizations, pt. 1. We will link it when it becomes available.

The Local community leaders (Video) from Discover Fresno will discuss and offer seminars and workshops on topics, including: 1) Developing Relationships With Kids That Change Lives – Every Neighborhood Partnership (ENP) 2) Understanding and Engaging Homelessness in Fresno – Fresno Rescue Mission 3) History of the Pain and New Signs of Hope in SW Fresno – Southwest Fresno Community Development Corporation and Saint Rest Economic Development Corporation 4) Racial Reconciliation Panel – Brian King, Carolyn Flores-Conrad and Manuel Contreras.

In the following Discover Fresno video, area partners introduce themselves and encourage residents to attend the event hosted by The Well Community Church, Feb. 9.

Please share your comments, stories or perspective on Dr. King’s dream and hope for our communities in the comment section below or send The Feather editors a column, letter to the editor or commentary via

For more information, visit Westside Church of God and St. Rest Baptist churches’ websites. For more on Dr. Marius, read WWII veteran Dr. Fitzalbert Marius encourages students toward service.

For more articles, read Lindsay Weimer shares success story of cancer battle, pt. 1 and HS ensemble, Berean Christian Schools participate in choir exchange.

Sam Cross can be reached via email or via Twitter.

Slideshow images of the civil rights movement by Dr. Fitzalbert M. Marius.

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