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2 board bus to King celebration

Two Nevada County women got on the bus Monday morning to attend a celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday in Marysville.

For the past 20 years, the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church choir has traveled from Marysville to Nevada City to perform its free gospel celebration on the third Monday in January, the day the slain African-American leader’s birthday is commemorated.



Dr. King was assassinated April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tenn., and his birthday was made a federal holiday in 1986.




But this year the largely African-American choir traveled to Nevada County on Sunday, decided to stay home on the official birthday, and invited Nevada County residents to join them there.

Tirzah Agassi of Nevada City and Marilyn Shulman of Grass Valley decided to take the church up on the offer Monday.

Agassi speculated that the choir’s standing-room-only free gospel celebration at St. Joseph’s Cultural Center in Grass Valley may have lessened interest in the bus ride to the celebration at the choir’s church.

“But my friend said ‘that’s the real thing in Marysville,'” said Agassi, a former member of the Maui Gospel Choir in Hawaii,” and that’s what I want: some real revival. I wanted to hear some preaching, too.”

That she did.

The congregation and visitors swayed and clapped to the choir’s world-class renditions of hymns, anthems and spirituals. The church was filled to its capacity of 287, with a liberal sprinkling of Caucasians.

Vivian “Moms” Blanton, a descendant of one of the church’s original founders in 1854, sent people on searches for tissues when she sang “Motherless Child.”

Rev. Dante Rome, pastor of the church, urged people to also to get on the bus for nonviolent social change.

“I feel the American dream is elusive for some,” Rome said to cheers of agreement.

Rome disputed the description of MLK’s birthday as a black holiday.

“Well, I had to do a little research to find out,” Rome said, eliciting laughter.

Congress designated the murdered minister’s birthday a federal holiday so that all Americans could reflect on the values of equality and nonviolent social justice, Rome said. He urged people not to mark the occasion and then take no further action to achieve those goals.

After Rome’s words, the congregation and choir first crossed their arms and then joined hands to sing four choruses of “We Shall Overcome,” the anthem of social activists that sprang into use at large public protests in the 1960s.

The MLK celebration began at noon and festivities were only starting to wind up at 3:30 p.m., Mabel Butler, a choir member helping out in the kitchen, said.

The choir gave a special performance in Grass Valley Sunday to avoid disappointing Nevada County residents, said Rosa Lopez, who until recently had a show for several years on KVMR, the Nevada City community radio station that has sponsored the event.

Lopez garnered great applause when she noted that Monday was “the first time the choir has celebrated it at home.”

“Mohammed has been going to the mountain,” Lopez said about the choir’s yearly trek to Nevada County. “I’m delighted to have the mountain go to Marysville.”

“This is the way we intend to continue,” Zenobia Brown, the choir director, told the congregation.


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