Hate flyers cloud Ridge’s King celebration

More than 200 people gathered in Paradise Monday to honor the memory of one of America’s most important and controversial figures, slain civil-rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. About half of those in attendance also participated in a candlelit march

While the event, held at the United Methodist Church on Clark Road, was not affected in any appreciable way, there was some tension in the air and a subdued but still visible police presence, as it had been discovered earlier that morning that white-supremacist propaganda had been distributed to about a dozen Paradise businesses. The literature was similar to flyers distributed last year in Oroville and Chico and is thought to be the work of Oroville racist Gregory Withrow.

One difference this time was that an organizer of the MLK celebration, Wendy Hartley, president of the Paradise Center for Tolerance and Nonviolence, was directly targeted in flyers bearing her picture and name.

“I felt shocked and attacked,” Hartley said in a phone interview Tuesday. “This is a very serious hate action against me.”

The center, a citizens’ group that has been working for about four years on the Ridge to raise awareness of the community’s problems with racism, homophobia and intolerance, has generated controversy lately by urging Paradise Mayor Scott Lotter to read a proclamation promoting respect and equal treatment for all citizens. The very fact that such a proclamation would be considered controversial is evidence of the need for a center for tolerance as well as for the value in commemorating King’s work, Hartley said.

“These events always give me a sense of uplifting and hope,” she said. “If there weren’t instances of intolerance here in this community, there wouldn’t be a center—there wouldn’t be any need for one.”

Monday’s celebration, just the fifth MLK observance in Paradise history, featured a reading of the tolerance proclamation by Mayor Lotter, along with choral singing and presentations by local religious groups. The main speaker was Chaplain LaFreeda Thomas, director of chaplains for Feather River Hospital, who spoke about one of King’s most famous writings, his letter to fellow clergy written from a jail cell in Birmingham, Ala.

King was in jail for marching against segregation. While there, he used his time to write what Thomas called “one of the most important documents to emerge from the civil-rights movement,” which detailed Dr. King’s philosophy of bringing together “the goals of Jesus Christ and the tactics of Gandhi.”

“Although physically confined to his cell, Dr. King knew his place in the universe,” she said, adding later that “we must never accept that to work for justice is futile.”

Hartley later said it was fitting that the religious community of Paradise had taken the lead in promoting King’s work, as religious leaders have often been at the forefront of civil-rights struggles in America. King himself was a Baptist minister, and during the civil-rights movement churches of all denominations donated services, time and facilities to civil-rights leaders and activists. Without that infrastructure and moral support, the movement may never have coalesced at all.

"For a lot of people, it is through faith that they come to their values, like Dr. King himself," Hartley said.