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Monday should be a great day for a walk on the Eastside. It’s a holiday, Martin Luther King Day, and the 29th Commemorative MLK Day March in San Antonio once again will be one of the nation’s largest and most celebrated. When was the last time you mixed it up with 200,000 or more fellow residents and visitors, all coming together in a shared belief that we can make it a better world?
People often say that San Antonio’s African-American population is a mere 7% of the city, as if that means the community doesn’t really count or isn’t a vibrant one. Come out Monday morning to the city’s Eastside and you will see tens of thousands of the city’s black residents walking alongside tens of thousands of Hispanics, whites, and anyone and everyone else who shows up. San Antonio is a different looking city on MLK Day, and if you have never experienced it, you are missing something.
Here are a few pointers for first timers:
Dress warmly and casually. The VIPs in the vanguard will be dressed in suits and ties and dresses, and Dr. King himself always dressed that way in public, but the rest of us will be dressed casually. Comfortable shoes matter. Temperatures will be in the mid-40s when the march begins at 10 a.m. and will only rise to the low 50s by the time the march ends around noon. Bring a water bottle.
The easiest way to get to the start of the march if you do not live on the Eastside or within walking distance downtown is by VIA bus. There will be free parking at both Freeman Coliseum and at St. Philip’s College, 1801 Martin Luther King Drive. VIA bus service is free from those two points to the drop off near the start of the March Route at Martin Luther Academy at 3501 MLK Drive.
The route is 2.75 miles long and pretty flat. Much of the route will be lined with residents who are not marching, and instead turn out to cheer on marchers. The march ends at Pittman-Sullivan Park, 1101 Iowa St. VIA buses will run continuously from 12-3 p.m. from the park back to Freeman Coliseum and St. Philip’s College.
Most people could easily walk the route in an hour or less, but the official march will stretch for many blocks and proceed slowly with many stops and starts with the Color Guard, elected officials and other VIPs at the front, and school marching bands, churches, various civic and community organizations, San Antonio Police and Firefighters, and many others lined up behind them. Click here for the lineup.
Pittman-Sullivan Park will be lined with food trucks and booths and swarming with people, many of whom will have arrived with lawn chairs and coolers for the 9:30-11:30 a.m. worship service that will feature preachers, singers, dancers and music. This is a convenient opportunity to register to vote if you have been meaning to do so. Volunteers will roam the park offering to register people. A mobile Blood Bank unit also will be on the premises inviting donors. The park will steadily fill from late morning with marchers and others showing up for the festivities and speechifying. A large covered stage on the park’s western edge will be surrounded by buses and trailers used by the performers, speakers and VIPs.
Riding a bike in the march itself is not practical unless you tag along on and off parallel streets. You need to walk the route to really experience the march. Cycling over to the park for the afternoon Commemorative Program and to feed off the energy of the crowds offers a nice change of pace and scenery after a morning ride. Don’t know where Iowa Street is? It’s César E. Chávez Boulevard past the Alamodome and east of Cherry Street.
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The MLK Commission’s Commemorative Program at the park is scheduled for 12-1:30 p.m. I can’t ever remember the program starting on time, and do not expect this year’s event to be an exception to the rule. Memory tells me there is a VIP lunch post-march that you and I are not invited to, so while the vanguard dines, we will entertain ourselves in the park. There is plenty to do and see. The program will feature a keynote address by actor and author Hill Harper, and a performance by Stellar Award-winning Gospel artist Isaac Carree and Jeremy Green, a classically-trained violinist and San Antonio native. The Baha’i Unity of Humanity Award and the Rev. R.A. Callies Courage Award will also be presented.
See you there.
*Top image: The crowd during the 2015 MLK March. Photo by Scott Ball.