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During the height of Martin Luther King Jr.’s fight for racial equality, interracial friendships like the one between local high school students Josh Lambert and Charles Trammel were often met with disapproval and, in some cases, violent opposition.
At this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. March on Monday, the two teenagers – one black and one white – walked side by side and celebrated their friendship in peace, something they believe King and others like him helped make possible.
“[It’s important] to represent the man that fought for us,” Charles, 15, told the Rivard Report during the march that began at Martin Luther King Academy on the city’s Eastside and concluded at Pittman-Sullivan Park. “He helped show us that life’s about love and respect and caring, regardless of the color of your skin.”
Josh, 16, and Charles – who have been friends for four years – were just two of an estimated 300,000 people who participated in this year’s 2.75-mile march, staged by the City’s MLK Jr. Commission, which also celebrated its 30th anniversary this year. Blacks make up about 7% of the city’s total population, yet the annual march is one of the nation’s largest, drawing people of all ethnicities.
Despite cloudy weather and the occasional drizzle, the event brought out a variety of local and national leaders, organizations, corporations, and other groups to honor King’s fight for equality and peace for all people, regardless of race, religion, or any other differences.
Participants of all ages and cultural and faith backgrounds came out in force, carrying colorful signs and banners with inspirational messages printed across them, many quoting King. The march is one of the only days in the year when San Antonians – and visitors from around the state and country – of all colors and socio-economic statuses unite to walk the same road together.
Monday, some of the country’s top elected officials and some of the city’s most successful entrepreneurs walked shoulder-to-shoulder with residents of some of San Antonio’s poorest areas.
“I am proud of the wonderful way in which we continue to see the life and legacy of Dr. King alive in our hearts and minds,” said Mayor Ivy Taylor, the city’s first black mayor, before the march. She was joined by dozens of other elected officials, including several City Council members, City Manager Sheryl Sculley, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, District Attorney Nico LaHood, Sheriff Javier Salazar, and Police Chief William McManus.
“We know it goes beyond this one day, this march,” Taylor said. “It’s about the work that we do each and every day to reach out to our brothers and sisters and to make San Antonio a better place.”
The march’s route along Martin Luther King Drive was lined with campaign signs of candidates running for upcoming local elections, but Monday was a time to put political differences aside, Councilman Ron Nirenberg (D8) told the Rivard Report during the march.
“This is a time when we come together as a community, as a city, as a place that’s as diverse as any place on earth,” said Nirenberg, who is running to unseat Taylor in the May municipal election. “Today is a good day to pause and reflect on what we’re actually trying to do together.”
The marchers reflected the growing diversity of San Antonio. Neighbors stood by, handing out water, blaring excerpts of King’s speeches on loud speakers and encouraging the crowd as it made its way north toward the park. Some light drizzle led many to pull out their umbrellas and rain jackets, but the weather did not dampen the energized and hopeful spirit of the day.
A number of handmade signs along the roadway, however, served as reminders of the many issues still facing communities across the city and country. There were calls to increase education and work opportunities for minorities and messages speaking out against the wall on the U.S.-Mexico border proposed by President-elect Donald Trump.
Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4), the county’s first black commissioner, remembers being pushed in a stroller as a child along the march route decades ago, he said. He said he is glad San Antonians have continued to use the march to protest inequality.
“Being in a majority-minority city that has had apartheid with respect to infrastructure and economic opportunity, that tradition of struggle into triumph is a very important thing for people to remember,” he told the Rivard Report. “This is as American as the First Amendment, freedom of speech, to be able to petition your government for equality, for better jobs, better education, all of the things that Dr. King fought for.”
There appeared to be fewer members of the Black Lives Matter movement in this year’s march than last year, when they walked ahead of the vanguard of civic and elected officials last year, protesting the police killings of black men across the country.
While the fraught relations between law enforcement and the black communities in San Antonio and other cities persist, the more peaceful tone of this year’s march conveyed the sense that uniting to confront that issue and other injustices in today’s society was at the forefront of many marchers’ minds.
“[King’s dream is alive] not just in this march,” said U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas). “It’s in our hearts and in our commitment to building a better and more just America. …We must keep hope alive. That’s our job in these coming days.”
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives Joe Straus, and U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) also were among the crowd of elected officials who marched.
“We’re setting an example for the rest of the country,” Hurd said of the large number of participants at the march. “We’re setting an example of how people from all parts of the city can come here and focus on the things that we agree on.”
At Pittman-Sullivan Park after the march, a host of speakers and politicians took the stage to offer their own words of inspiration to the crowd, each reflecting on King’s dream and legacy. The afternoon’s keynote speaker, former rapper-turned-activist David Banner, said that we do not live in a “post-racial America” since so many minorities are still disenfranchised.
He said it’s up to individuals to fight for their rights, instead of relying on elected officials or other prominent figures to do the work.
“If you want better,” he said, “you have to make better.”