March attendees walk heading West on Martin Luther King Drive during the MLK March in 2019.
March attendees walk heading West on Martin Luther King Drive during the MLK March in 2019. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The in-person march commemorating the birthday of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., set for Jan. 17, has been canceled due to concerns about the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in the area, officials announced Friday.

San Antonio’s MLK Commission voted Thursday night to cancel the MLK March, which is one of the nation’s largest and regularly draws upwards of 100,000 participants to the East Side route that culminates with food, music, and speeches at Pittman-Sullivan Park.

Renee Watson, who chairs both the MLK Commission and the march, said in a news release that she heard from many San Antonio citizens that “they want to march, they think we should march, but they’re concerned and scared about the possibility of contracting COVID-19.”

This week, Metro Health upgraded its COVID-19 risk level to the “severe” level, driven by the highly contagious omicron variant. The positivity rate is at an all-time high of 27.3%. 

The commission will partner with San Antonio’s Metro Health Department to host a pop-up testing and vaccination site at Pittman-Sullivan Park on Jan. 17, the federal holiday honoring King’s birthday. Tests and vaccinations will be given from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Virtual programming for the day is still under development, according to a news release. Residents can submit ideas for programs on the SA MLK Commission’s Facebook page. The full schedule and details will be available later online on the commission’s website

When the march was canceled last year, the commission’s virtual event premiered local filmmaker Ya’Ke Smith’s Dream: Rising Up for Justice and many residents found other ways, such as block parties, to honor the leader of the U.S. civil rights movement.

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org