Tens of thousands of people marched under a cold, gray sky in San Antonio to celebrate the life and legacy of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., marking the 25th anniversary of the commemorative national holiday.
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"This is the best march I’ve ever been to,” said Mary Frances Berry, the civil rights activist and friend of King’s who was this year’s keynote speaker. “You’re fantastic.”
The City of San Antonio hosts what is known as the country’s largest King march, and organizers said this year did not disappoint, with at least 100,000 people coming out on a foggy and chilly Monday, Jan. 17 for a packed procession that started at 10 a.m. at the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Bridge and ended at Pittman-Sullivan Park.
“We’ve been coming here for years and years,” said Samantha Harrison, of Shertz, as she huddled against the cold with her teenage daughter, waiting to join the sea of marchers. “It’s a chance for people of all races to come together. That’s what great about San Antonio.”
Participants spoke of the pride they felt that San Antonio brings together people of all races and religions in honor of King, who was assassinated in 1968 when he was 35, a year after he won the Nobel Peace Prize.
“What I’ve seen all these years is not only the huge numbers in San Antonio but also the diversity of people from all walks of life, which is what Dr. King spoke about in his Dream speech,” said the Rev. Arthur J. Malone Jr. of the New St. James Baptist Church in Seguin, whose family has lived on the East Side for 57 years. “This is not just (about) African-Americans, but all Americans.”
For many the call for unity took on new meaning as others in the country are embroiled on a debate about violence, immigration and race, particularly following the Jan. 8 shootingsin Tucson Az. that left 6 dead and 13 injured, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
Berry, a historian who was a friend of King’s and his wife Coretta, said that in times of “war, maiming and killing,” people don’t know what to do about the tragedy of “guns and violence.”
But she said King’s message of social justice, including jobs and education, still resonate in today’s world.
“The work he did was unfinished,” said Berry, a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania and a co-founder of the Free South Africa Movement that was formed to end apartheid.
“But his message would be the same – that you dedicate the rest of your life to a cause of social justice,” she said. “If you believe in feeding the hungry do that, but not just on Thanksgiving Day.”
With the election of President Obama, the nation’s first African-American president, and other societal inroads, Berry said she’s always asked if the glass is half-empty or half-full in terms of equality.
“The glass is half-full and the glass if half-empty,” she said.
Others speakers included District 2 Councilwoman Ivy R. Taylor, Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson, Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (D-San Antonio) and Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio). Stinson Middle School student Brianna Rangel sang the National Anthem, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance, performed by hearing impaired students of Lanier High School.
NOWCastSA filmed the march and celebrations.
Watch video from the live stream here.
Watch a collection of the marchers in a video produced by Sarah Garrahan and Antonio Rodriguez.
Watch the complete speech from keynote speaker Mary Frances Berry