Tamea Hill last took part in San Antonio’s Martin Luther King Jr. march when she was 3 years old. Now 12, she marched on Monday with her 8-year-old sister Tamesha and her mom Tameka.
“I wanted to come because Martin Luther King was a good leader,” she said. “He made black and white come together. He changed a lot. If he never made his speech … we would still be fighting, and I wouldn’t have the friends I have now.”
Thousands of people filled the streets of San Antonio’s historically black East Side on Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. They walked from the Martin Luther King Jr. Academy to Pittman-Sullivan Park, holding signs and chatting with their friends and family. Texas officials such as Democratic U.S. Reps. Joaquín Castro and Lloyd Doggett, Mayor Ron Nirenberg, Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar, San Antonio Police Chief William McManus, U.S. Marshal Susan Pamerleau, and Julián Castro, former San Antonio mayor and recently announced candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, led the way.
U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) said his father used to bring him to the march as a child, and he’s grown to appreciate the significance of San Antonio’s march as he’s matured.
“This day was put in context for me the first day I was in Congress,” Hurd said. “I’m on the floor of the Capitol, and I see civil rights leader John Lewis, and I introduce myself. I say, ‘Congressman Lewis, I’m Will Hurd from the San Antonio district.’ And he says, ‘Did you know you have the largest march in the country?’”
State Sen. José Menéndez (D-San Antonio) told the crowd at Pittman-Sullivan Park to seize the momentum from Monday’s march and keep it going.
“Let us not stop. Let us continue to pull each other up,” he said. “Our morals define us. Our character must drive us to action. Today marks another milestone in the long march to freedom, but don’t make this the only day — make this the first day of the rest of the year.”
Keynote speaker Shaun King, Black Lives Matter activist and columnist with The Appeal and The Intercept, outlined four requirements he said are necessary to effect lasting social change: energized people, organized people, a fully developed plan, and money to support that change.
“San Antonio, I believe in you, in your potential to change this city,” King said. “You’re already doing it. I hope what you did in this past election – that you don’t see it and get complacent, but that you see it and get hungry and say if we can do that, we can do it many more times.”
King also spoke to Martin Luther King Jr.’s character – not the simplified, “cartoonish” figure to which he is often reduced, he said. In the often-quoted “I Have A Dream” speech, the civil rights leader condemned police brutality and criticized the United States for defaulting on its promise of unalienable rights to people of color, King said.
“Dr. King was a revolutionary, but sometimes the way we present him dumbs down the full content of his words,” King said.
Some speakers took the march as an opportunity to criticize President Donald Trump. Doggett highlighted the federal government shutdown and criticized Trump for not ending it. He joked that locals were still looking for the wall in San Antonio, referencing Trump’s comment a few days earlier that “… walls work … You look at different places they put up a wall, no problem. You look at San Antonio … They go from one of the most unsafe cities in the country to one of the safest cities, immediately.”
“Today, so many of our neighbors – 800,000 American families – are not receiving a paycheck because of the government shutdown. A shutdown was needed, but don’t shut down the people who want to work as public servants,” Doggett said to applause. “Mr. President, shut down the hate, shut down the bigotry. Show us a little respect.”
Click through the gallery below for images from the 2019 MLK March.
Throughout the march, people lined the sidewalks and cheered on marchers. Neighbors held signs with King quotes and advertised barbecue plates, turkey legs, sausage wraps, and baked goods. Toward the end of the route, a handful of protesters holding signs recruiting for the NRA, condemning abortion, and advocating for a border wall were largely ignored. Outside Trinity Missionary Baptist Church, Pastor Ronnie Thomas Sr. waved from a podium while gospel music blared from speakers.
He shouted encouraging words at people as they walked by: “God bless you, CPS Energy. Keep the faith, keep the dream. More importantly, keep the lights on! … Thank you, Girl and Boy Scouts, God bless you. Amen. God bless you marchers. I pray that God keeps you safe on this wonderful beautiful day. God bless you, Nationwide. Are you still on my side? God bless you so much.”
Thomas said he has been involved with the MLK Jr. Commission, the City agency that organizes the annual march, for about 20 years, though he stepped down this year. He said he brings his church’s ministry to marchers each year because it shows that Trinity Missionary Baptist is still a part of the movement.
“It gives a chance for the community to view that church is still an intricate part of civil rights and justice, period,” he said.
Renee Garvens, president of the San Antonio LGBT Chamber of Commerce, carried a giant pride flag alongside a dozen other marchers. Local LGBTQIA groups have marched together for about four years now, she said, as the community’s fight for equal rights aligns with King’s mission.
“He had a … love-based message, and that’s what these groups represent – acceptance for all, love for all types of people,” she said.