Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version Share this


Music, Dance, and Storytelling Highlight 13th Annual Event -- VIEW OUR VIDEOS!

Moreton Bay Fig Morris English Dance Troupe.


By Miriam Raftery

Photos by Miriam Raftery and Leon Thompson


January 18, 2009 (La Mesa) — "On Tuesday, we will celebrate a historic day--I never thought I would see the day when we would have an African-American president," Dr. Eugene R. Bailey, retired U.S. Navy captain, told an audience of several hundred people at La Mesa's Multi-Cultural Festival. "Today I have to pinch myself to believe I actually commanded ships," said Bailey, who entered the Navy when opportunities for minorities were restricted. "We Americans have actually come a long, long way."

Multicultural FestivalBailey praised slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King. "He really changed the U.S. and the world," Bailey said. "But he stood on some shoulders to get there." He lauded the efforts of abolitionists Frederick Douglas and Harriet Tubman, as well as the many "foot soldiers" who marched for Civil Rights.

Multicultural FestivalBailey recalled his own experience enlisting in the Navy during an era when only 30 of 72,000 Naval officers were minorities. "President Harry Truman issued an executive order to desegregate the military in 1948, but that wasn't integration," said Bailey. Although opportunities for African-Americans in the Navy during the 1950s appeared limited to "shoe shiners, cooks or stewards," he enlisted in the Navy after being drafted. Then in the 1970s, Admiral Zumwalt issued equal opportunity policies that made it possible for those who work hard to advance.

Multicultural FestivalWhen commanding a ship, Bailey used to tell his crew members that working together was a requirement, despite differences. "If the bow goes down, the stern won't be far behind," he observed. "American, we've got work to do."

The Multi-Cultural Festival also featured musical performances by the Moreton Bay Fig Morris English Dance Troupe, Ballet Folklorico en Aztlan Dance Theatre, and the Axis Gospel Singers from Meridian Baptist Church. In addition, Black Storytellers of San Diego members provided a captivating recitation reflecting African-American history from Rosa Parks and the civil rights era to modern day.

In addition, the City of La Mesa presented human relations awards of excellence to students from Parkway and La Mesa Middle Schools, honoring Dr. King's vision of a society in which people will "not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character," as King described in his now-famous "I Have a Dream" speech delivered in Washington D.C. To view the full video of King's famous speech, visit:

Error message

Support community news in the public interest! As nonprofit news, we rely on donations from the public to fund our reporting -- not special interests. Please donate to sustain East County Magazine's local reporting and/or wildfire alerts at to help us keep people safe and informed across our region.