Crowds gathered to celebrate the largest MLK march in the nation on Martin Luther King Street. Photo by Lea Thompson.
The MLK March on San Antonio's Eastside is one of the largest in the nation. Credit: Lea Thompson / San Antonio Report

Since Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination 50 years ago, millions of marchers have taken to streets to celebrate and pursue the mission of his life and legacy. Organizers of San Antonio’s annual march said it is one of the largest in the country, with more than 300,000 people expected to participate Monday in the Martin Luther King Jr. March.

“San Antonio believes in the legacy and teachings of Dr. King: peace, justice, and equality for all,” said Nathaniel Davis, chair of the City’s MLK Commission. “It’s awesome to see.”

This year’s march begins at 10 a.m. at the Martin Luther King Jr. Academy, located at 3501 Martin Luther King Dr. on the city’s Eastside. Participants walk 2.75 miles on MLK Drive towards Pittman-Sullivan Park. Davis said that the march is so large that people in the front of the throng reach the park before those toward the back of the crowd have even started to walk.

“Put on some good shoes, bring a spirit of joy,” said Keely Petty, vice chair of the City of San Antonio’s MLK Commission, which organizes the march and other events paying tribute to King.

While crowd sizes are difficult to pinpoint, claims that San Antonio is home to the largest Martin Luther King Jr. Day march in the United States are based on analyses by the San Antonio Police Department, Davis said. Photographs taken from a bridge overlooking a section of the march route are divided into grids, with the number of participants in each grid counted. Then the number of grids are multiplied to determine the size of the crowd.

He said other cities such as Washington, D.C., and Atlanta also have large marches, with Atlanta’s usually bringing out more than 50,000 marchers.

Most of the streets around the march route will be closed for the event, Petty said. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. from Hein Rd. to Bookertee Rd. will be closed starting at 7:30 a.m., and exit ramps from Interstate-10 to Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. will close at 9:15 a.m. and reopen when the march reaches New Braunfels Avenue.

Roads around Pittman-Sullivan Park (1101 Iowa St.) will be closed from noon to 4:30 p.m. for a special commemorative program held in the park. Television journalist Roland Martin, who most recently hosted the TV One show NewsOne Now, is the event’s keynote speaker, and San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg also will speak.

VIA Metropolitan Transit will operate a free park-and-ride service for the event. Drivers may park their vehicles at either Freeman Coliseum (3201 E. Houston St.) or St. Philip’s College (1801 Martin Luther King Dr.). Drop offs to the event will be permitted beginning at 8 a.m. and continuing until the start of the march at 10 a.m. Buses will begin picking people up from Pittman-Sullivan Park at noon and continue bringing them back to their vehicles until 3 p.m.

Dozens of groups representing companies, universities, and social organizations throughout the city will march, and with 2018 being an election year, the crowd is certain to include plenty of political candidates. Bexar County Democrats and Republicans are encouraging constituents to join them at the starting point. Various LGBTQIA organizations also are encouraging interested individuals to join a collective march effort starting at 9 a.m.

However, at least one Black Lives Matter organization has stated that it plans to disrupt the march with a protest but did not provide details.

SATX4 wants to highlight the fact that the march does nothing in the pursuit of justice,” the group stated in a release sent to the Rivard Report. SATX4 previously has protested against the presence of a Confederate memorial in Travis Park and against police shootings of unarmed black men in San Antonio.

“We wish to remind those who march to act, and not just a 2.5-mile walk,” the statement reads. “We want a call to action for police accountability here in San Antonio.”

Petty said members of the San Antonio Police Department, Bexar County Sheriff’s Department, and the U.S. Marshals Service will provide security at the event. Hundreds of uniformed and plainclothes officers will be marching with the crowd. She said the march has never been disrupted by acts of violence.

“If there is any protesting, we want to ensure that it’s a peaceful protest,” Petty said. “People do have a right to protest. They have a right to give voice.”

Davis said the MLK Commission partnered with the San Antonio Food Bank to collect canned goods for people affected by the hurricane that flooded Houston and significantly damaged swaths of the Texas coastline. Collection bins will be located at the beginning and end of the march route.

This year, the MLK Commission is marking the origins of today’s marches, which had their start 50 years ago when San Antonio resident Rev. R.A. Callies organized a March for Justice following King’s assassination.

“The dream is still alive,” Petty said. “This march represents that we can keep a dream alive and we can see the manifestation of our dreams.”

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Jeffrey Sullivan

Jeffrey Sullivan is a Rivard Report reporter. He graduated from Trinity University with a degree in Political Science.