MLK celebrant has seen plenty of changes

CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks Selmus J. Price, left, president of the Clovis chapter National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, leads marchers on 14th Street during Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. march.

By Gabe Monte: CNJ staff wtiter

Segregation was the law when Ira Pottard grew up in Clovis in the 1930s.

And during World War II, he served in a segregated Army unit known as the Buffalo Soldiers.

“It’s much better now than it was then,” he said. “Back in the 30s and before, there was hatred. You don’t see that anymore. But I’ve never seen much of that in Clovis.”

In his lifetime he’s seen barriers that separated races fall because of men such as Martin Luther King Jr.

“(Martin Luther King Jr. Day) means everything to me, it’s just so much you can’t put in words,” said Pottard, 86, after a church service Monday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day., a federal holiday celebrated on the third Monday of January.

Clovis High School 11th-grader Michael Grooms said it is because of those walls coming down that he participates in the annual walk that honors King and his legacy of fighting for equal rights.

“He did so much,” he said.

Grooms was among the 400 Clovis residents who participated Monday in the 17th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. walk, which is part of the annual celebration of the holiday.

Organized by the Clovis Martin Luther King Jr. Commission, the walk commemorated the marches King led from Selma, Ala., to Montgomery, Ala., to protest unfair voting practices against blacks in the South.

Monday’s walk started at Yucca Middle School and ended at Central Baptist Church and was followed by a church service.

As the keynote speaker of the event, Central Baptist media relations officer Chuck Tipton spoke on unity and respect.

“I think (MLK Day) is a day to remember that (King’s) dream was to teach people to treat people right,” he said.

The commission changed the route of the walk this year to encourage more community involvement, according to Commission President Joyce Pollard. The previous route started from Roy Walker Recreation Center to Patterson Chapel on Cesar Chavez Drive.

And unlike previous walks that had temperatures in the 20s, the warm morning was conducive for the walk, a reason Pollard said contributed to the number of participants. Last year’s event had more than 250 people.

Pollard said President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration today also played a role in the increased participation.

“They’re excited about the inauguration of Obama as president, I guess the adrenaline is running on that,” she said.

But whatever the temperature, Grooms said participating in the walk is the least he could do for a man that did so much to improve the lives of others.

“I don’t mind giving up my day for that cause,” he said.