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News :: Human Rights
A record 68,000 march in San Antonio for MLK
by San Antonio Express-News
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21 Jan 2004
...a record throng of marchers paid tribute Monday to slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. in what has become one of the largest such marches in the country An estimated 68,000 people wound their way through East Side streets... "We are here because we cannot allow this holiday to become trivialized."
MLK event sets record, salutes landmark court decision
By Sonja Garza and Rachel L. Toalson
San Antonio Express-News
Web Posted : 01/20/2004 12:00 AM
With a bright yellow school bus leading the way, a record throng of marchers paid tribute Monday to slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. in what has become one of the largest such marches in the country
An estimated 68,000 people wound their way through East Side streets on a sunny, but chilly, morning.
Helicopters circled overhead as participants, some carrying placards reading, "Your Dream Sustains Us," or "No War," stepped to the beat of a drum line.
The three-mile trek, which began at the East Side Boys & Girls Club, observed what would have been King's 75th birthday. King was killed in 1968 by an assassin's bullet.
"A dream is no good without a prayer," the Rev. Claudette Copeland, keynote speaker, told the crowd at a commemorative program immediately after the march.
"It was his job to dream better dreams. Today is the tomorrow that King dreamed of yesterday," she said. "And now we have a duty. Someone has to learn how to reach beyond the barriers and engage."
The march also recognized the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Brown vs. Board of Education, which struck down the "separate but equal" education provision.
Along with the traditional sanitation truck, a school bus carrying local civil rights leaders led the procession as a symbol of the landmark ruling.
Tai Ingram, 21, of San Antonio, said the historic decision holds particular significance to her because her grandmother Ethel Louise Belton was a plaintiff in one of the five original court cases.
"This is the 50th anniversary of Brown v. the Board of Education, and our family couldn't be more proud to be a part of it," Ingram said.
Assistant Police Chief Jerry Pittman said Monday's crowd set a record for the annual march. He said the 68,000 figure was gathered by taking aerial views of the march and using a formula for crowd estimates.
City officials said last year's march drew around 60,000.
Andrea Williams and her daughter Shawniqua Stewart took in the procession from the curb. Stewart said she admired King because he helped "black Americans and white Americans get together."
Sitting in her driveway, a metal walker resting in front of her, 82-year-old Ruby Burnett reflected on past injustices as marchers filed by her home.
"We couldn't go in the front door of a restaurant. We couldn't use restrooms at the bus station. They had separate restrooms for what they then called, 'Coloreds,'" Burnett said.
Members of human rights organizations and student and labor groups took the opportunity to push a particular cause or protest.
Holding a sign reading, "War is the Enemy," Sam Sanders, a member of the Black Student Association at the University of the Incarnate Word, said the country "should be spending money on things much more relevant to Americans such as health care, education and the economy."
March participant Sanya Flemings of San Antonio said she is against the war in Iraq because, "God is not about war, and Martin Luther King is not about war."
The march ended at about noon at the Martin Luther King Plaza, where the crowd gathered to hear the keynote address delivered by Copeland, author and pastor at New Creation Christian Fellowship.
Before she took the stage, representatives from around San Antonio laid floral wreaths at the stage to the sound of "Taps." City and state officials provided opening remarks, and Lester Foster and Chester Baldwin belted out gospel tunes.
Copeland began her speech with a penetrating question: "Why are we here today?
"We are here because we cannot allow our history to shrink," she said. "We are here because we cannot allow this holiday to become trivialized."
The audience was there, Copeland said, to recall their history.
"We're here to recall the pathways that brought us over," she said. "We're here to remind ourselves of our commitment to each other. We're here to reach up and across to a power that is higher than ours."
The audience responded with "Amens," "Hallelujahs" and "Come on, sisters."
Eugene Jackson, 47, hung back from the crowd. Though he had trouble hearing the speech, he said just being at the celebration meant the world to him.
"Martin Luther made things better for me," Jackson said. "He made sacrifices for us to be able to be here today."
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