Most people know Martin Luther King Jr. as a civil rights leader, Nobel Peace Prize winner and soaring orator.
But for the more than 70 people gathered Sunday afternoon in the sanctuary of Christ Unity Baptist Church in downtown Modesto, he was first and foremost a Baptist preacher.
King could face his fears and the threats against himself and his family and work to rid the nation of injustice because he was a faithful servant of the lord, said guest speaker Keith C. Morgan, pastor at Manteca's Fellowship Baptist Church.
"Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was able to do these things because he had a relationship with God," Morgan said.
The Baptist preacher encouraged his audience to follow God just as King did.
"Your life, your walk is supposed to be a holy walk," Morgan said.
On the eve of the federal holiday celebrating the slain civil rights leader's birth, the predominately black Modesto church honored King's life and ministry with gospel music, dance, preaching and the singing of "Lift Every Voice and Sing," the black national anthem.
Associate Pastor Greg Savage and church member John Ervin recounted King's words and race relations in America from the arrival of the first African slaves in 1619 at the Virginia Colony to King's "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in the nation's capital.
"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character," one of them read.
'His message gives us a light'
Church usher Charles Belvin, 73, said King's philosophy of meeting hate with love applies to all people.
"His message gives us a light to go on," he said. "We want to be a Christian country and let our light shine in Modesto and the rest of the world."
Salida resident Ronald Rosado, 47, said Sunday's celebration was at least the 15th he has attended to honor King in the past two decades.
"Each time I learn more and more," he said.
Rosado grew up in Biloxi, Miss., and moved to the Central Valley in 1981 as a teenager. But he can remember the struggles his grandmother Susie Hayes faced in the Deep South in the days of segregation. He said she took part in the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march in Alabama.
He said he was grateful to see the hopes and dreams of his grandmother and her generation come true as race relations improved in this country.
"To live to see an African-American president," Rosado said about his own life as a man of black and Puerto Rican descent. "Two hundred years ago, there was slavery. I'm really grateful to see a change in society. I see it as more equal. Not as equal as it should be, but more equal than it was."
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2316.