HANFORD — A planned candlelight vigil on the steps of the Civic Auditorium Monday night to show support for Martin Luther King Jr. Day attracted only one local resident.

Five of the six people who attended the National Action Network sponsored event were from Fresno.

The city of Hanford has never recognized Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The City Council is expected to take action tonight to give the holiday official status.

National Action Network — a group founded by Rev. Al Sharpton in 1991 — staged its demonstration over the objections of local NAACP members who expressed their dissatisfaction with the group’s decision to come on the eve of today’s City Council meeting.

The Hanford branch of the NAACP has been working for months to gather signatures to qualify a Martin Luther King Jr. Day measure for the ballot.

At the same time, branch members have asked the City Council several times to declare the holiday unilaterally.

National Action Network was not involved in the campaign.

Local NAACP President Willard Roberson said Saturday that the branch had “never affiliated” with National Action Network. Roberson said the candlelight vigil would only disrupt months of effort by his group to get the holiday recognized.

Floyd Harris, a Fresno-based organizer with National Action Network, said he had “the utmost respect” for Roberson.

“I think that they should be commended for their efforts. This is not a rivalry or anything,” he said.

Harris said said he didn’t know why NAACP members failed to show.

Al Cason, NAACP Hanford political action committee chair, said the group put on a candidates’ forum the same night. He said he wasn’t aware of members of the group having received notification of the vigil.

“We don’t know anything about (National Action Network),” he said.

Safiyaah Brannon said people didn’t come because “maybe somebody threatened them.”

Brannon, a crisis intervention officer with National Action Network, said Hanford City Councilwoman Marcie Buford threatened her in a Monday phone conversation about the vigil.

According to Brannon, Buford said, “You better walk softly.”

In a phone interview with The Sentinel, Buford denied using that phrase.

“I suggested that they come and do their thing quietly,” she said.

Buford said she was concerned that the vigil might disrupt homecoming events at the Civic.

Buford her concern was for the safety of “anyone” in the area.

Harris said his group would “file something within the city here” to protest Buford’s alleged “You better walk softly” remark.

(The reporter may be reached at snidever@hanfordsentinel.com.)

(May 16, 2006)

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