Gary Linehan, The Union Democrat

Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers Union with Cesar Chavez, will be the keynote speaker at the 19th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration on Sunday in Sonora.

The free event, which includes music by Dennis Brown and Michelle Allison, will begin at 2 p.m. in the Sonora High School auditorium.

The celebration is sponsored by the Mother Lode Martin Luther King Jr. Committee. The program will be followed by a public reception with Huerta in the cafeteria.

Huerta will speak on "Immigration and Social Justice."

She recently participated in "Fast for Families: A Call for Immigration Reform," fasting for a day at the Bakersfield office of Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., the House majority whip.

Her non-violent activism and fasting follows the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez.

Huerta grew up in Stockton and graduated from Stockton College, where she earned a provisional teaching credential.She soon left teaching to organize Central Valley farm workers after seeing their children come to school hungry.

She began working with Chavez to form the UFW and became the principal negotiator with the growers.

In 2012, President Barack Obama recognized her leadership with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Huerta speaks all over the country and has been a lifelong activist for progressive causes.

She worked to get laws passed protecting the rights of farm workers and worked to end the bracero program, which the union said allowed the exploitation of domestic farm workers.

Huerta is credited with shaping and guiding the UFW by mapping out strategy for important events, including the 1965 Delano grape workers strike and the widely publicized national boycott of table grapes.

Huerta solidified her reputation as a coalition builder during the boycott by bringing together diverse religious groups, student groups, feminists, civil rights groups, peace organizations and Latino community groups.

Huerta also received the Eleanor Roosevelt Humans Rights Award from President Bill Clinton in 1998, induction into the National Women's Hall of Fame and nine honorary doctorates.

She played a crucial role in creating the amnesty provisions of the 1986 immigration law that enabled a million farm workers to become legal residents.

The Sonora celebration of King's birthday was started by Marguerite Johnson and her late husband, Daniel Johnson. The couple moved to Sonora from the Bay Area and could not find any King Day activities, so they decided to start one.

The first celebration was held at the Sonora Veterans Hall in 1995. Past presentations and speakers have focused on racial issues, but in recent years programs have highlighted community issues, focusing on such things as homelessness, hunger and health care.

The committee is a nonprofit organization dedicated to honoring the late civil rights leader who fought racial discrimination in the United States in the 1960s.

In 1964, King received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to end racial segregation and discrimination through civil disobedience and other non-violent means. He had begun to work toward ending poverty and opposing the Vietnam War when he was assassinated in 1968 in Memphis.

The committee will also present awards to students who participated in a countywide essay and art contest. For more information, call committee members Pat Cervelli at 928-3494 or Kathleen Malloy at 840-4777.