Massive crowds marched the streets of San Antonio’s East Side on Monday for the Martin Luther King Jr. March, one of the largest in the nation.
Starting from the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Academy, tens of thousands walked the 3-mile route to Pittman-Sullivan Park to celebrate the birthday and legacy of the civil rights leader.
As the march began, crowds joined the San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4), County Judge Peter Sakai and District 2 Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez in singing, “We Shall Overcome.”
Marchers of diverse ethnicities and ages participated with smiles as music from deejays and the Sam Houston High School band provided the soundtrack. Along the route, some held signs bearing messages such as “Stop the hate” and “Fight the three evils — racism, militarism, poverty.” There also were signs memorializing the victims of the May 2022 Uvalde shooting that killed 21 children and two teachers.
Monday’s march was the first time in three years the march was held, with much for the Black community to unpack following a period marked by a pandemic and racial turmoil. The George Floyd murder by police and the resulting civil unrest, the racially motivated slaying of Ahmaud Arbery and a renewed focus on policing have had a profound impact on the social and political climate for people of color.
“Our community has been dealing with these issues. What was missing was the coverage,” said Diana Mitchell, who has participated in the march for 30 years. Mitchell, a Georgia native and Northside resident of 40 years, marched with her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha. “We need for open discussion and for people to understand, those incidents during COVID were incidents that have been happening and are still happening.”
As she marched, Mitchell commended San Antonio for the effort it has made as a city with a small Black population to continue the march and said she was proud it is among the biggest in the nation.
“The march is necessary. It brings groups together,” she said. “It’s one of the marches in the nation that does have a lot of representation from different ethnic groups, different ideologies, different political groups, so I think it is a good platform used to bring people together and educate.”
Breanna and Cody Oliver were among the crowd that marched along Martin Luther King Dr., holding their 3-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son. An interracial couple raising biracial children, the pair prioritized attending the march to educate their children about Black history.
“We wanted to make sure we came out and showed the kids about unity, Black empowerment, our people coming together and celebrating as one. We wanted to make sure they get to experience that and learn about Martin Luther King and make sure they know the history,” said Breanna Oliver.
She said she began a deep dive into Black history after the murder of George Floyd in 2020. She learned good and bad: about the success of Black leaders and politicians that made an impact on social justice, but also about systematic racism in the U.S.
“Sometimes it’s not as direct as a cop killing you in the street,” she said. “There’s a lot of things that go deeper than the surface level of the issues.”
As a Black girl growing up and learning history in school, Breanna Oliver said the public school system taught her about slavery and the Civil Rights Movement, but other pieces were missing: She never learned about other Black leaders that had an impact on the culture, such as Malcom X, Marcus Garvey and Huey P. Newton.
“It’s [learning Black history and understanding it] just a small piece of starting [my children’s] education and learning about that because they are biracial,” Oliver said. “There are a lot of things, systematically, that are still in place that affect us as Black people. It’s important to recognize that and fight for equality.”
Her husband, Cody Oliver, said he didn’t learn as much about Black history in school, but has taken time to educate himself. It’s more important to him now because he’s raising children of color, he said.
“I have to teach them the history that we’ve gone through. Today is an integral part of that,” he said. “Getting them aware of that when they’re young, that’s important because that’s going to show them how to act in the future.”
Christina Ramirez, who attended the march with her family, said the event was a “definite must for generations to come” to keep King’s message alive.
“If we don’t keep it going, the words tend to fade away and so do the meanings,” she said. “Everything he [Martin Luther King Jr.] stood for eventually will get lost, and we don’t want that. We want to continue to build, we want our nation to continue to move forward to progress.”