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More Than 300,000 In San Antonio March, Celebrate And Reflect On MLK Jr.

Hundreds of thousands of people traveled to city's East Side for today's Martin Luther King Jr. march.

Events began at 8 a.m. with a church service at Martin Luther King Academy at 3501 Martin Luther King Drive.

Marchers then followed a 2.7 mile route from the Freedom Bridge to Pittman-Sullivan Park.

'We're All Dreamers'

Tamala Budwine brought her kids to the event. "My children have been coming out here since they were four," she said. "They're 13 and 11 now. It's been a tradition in our family to come out and support."

George Allen didn't bring kids. He brought his horse. "I got a little bit bored of walking, and my horse needs some practice," he explained. "So this is my second time riding the horse. But I've done this ever since they started."

Allen and two other riders welcomed a steady stream of children who came up to nuzzle with the horses. "Oh, they enjoy the kids," he said. "The kids calm them down."

David Hernandez said he's participated in the march for years and thinks it's important. "To show solidarity behind [King's] dream that he had and his beliefs and just being around people that I like," he said, "and that's what I'm here for."

Hernandez added that King's message of equality and peace doesn't just make for good politics. It's for everyone. "It has a positive vibe," he said. "People of different color, different races, different beliefs. I mean, it's a wonderful feeling. It really is."

Simon Delagarza held up a sign that read "Todos Somos Dreamers," or "We're All Dreamers." He saw a commonality between residents and migrants. "We all have a dream, whether we're citizens or immigrants," he said. "All of our dreams are different, and they're all important."

Credit Jack Morgan | Texas Public Radio
Marchers celebrated LGBTQ rights at the march.

Joseph Holland marched with the San Antonio LGBT Chamber of Commerce.

"I think it's a little bit of a reality check for some people ... that we are still having to go through this in 2020," he said, "and that ... this is not just another march. This is something that really has a serious message and that people are fighting for equality all over the country."

Holland also had a positive take on the march's enormous size. "And the fact that San Antonio has the largest march in the country, I think speaks volumes too."

The city estimates that San Antonio hosts the biggest MLK Day march in the United States, with about 300,000 participants. Numbers for this year were not immediately available.

A group of activists played their part to honor King by marching to preserve the downtown Woolworth building, the site of one of the city’s first victories in the civil rights movement.

It's been nearly 60 years since its lunch counter peacefully desegregated, showing the nation it could be done.

Credit Bonnie Petrie | Texas Public Radio

Vincent Michael believed that moment in 1960 helped define San Antonio’s future. "It led the city council to eventually pass an ordinance and eventually make sure that everything was integrated by the time HemisFair came in 68."

Michael is a member of the coalition that wants the Woolworth Building historically preserved as Alamo Plaza is redesigned.

He marched with his group in San Antonio’s MLK Day March with signs and banners that urged onlookers to not just remember their historic victories but to also treasure and protect the places where those victories took place.

Other kinds of participation

Not everyone marched. Some people stood on the sidewalks and just shouted encouragement to the marchers, or they handed them water.

Janice Brock said it's been ten years since she participated in the marches. Throughout that last decade, however, she estimated that she handed out more than 1,600 bottles of water to those who walked past her.

She uses the march to teach her granddaughters about service. "Yeah. I'm trying to teach my granddaughters about giving," she said. "And this is not a day off. This is a day of service."

Credit Nathan Cone | Texas Public Radio

Joella Methola had the upcoming election on her mind. She spent the day registering marchers to vote. "You got to vote because that's the best way to peacefully change things," she said. "And it's really important because every vote does matter."

Political voices

Several political leaders mixed with the crowds. On the eve of a divisive election season -- presidential primary elections are next month -- many of them called for unity.

District 2 Councilwoman Jada Andrews Sullivan represents the East Side, a historically African American community. She attended the school where the march kicked off.

“So I started when I was 13 right back there at Martin Luther King Academy which was middle school," she recalled, "and what we learned is that there is so much power in unity, and so to have this happen in District 2 -- it says that we are lot more than what you see, we’re a lot more than what you hear, and there’s a lot of good roots that lay here in District 2.”

She joined many of the city’s elected leaders near the front of the march.

The San Antonio population is majority Latino, and District 4 Councilwoman Adriana Rocha Garcia said the Alamo City's diversity is its strength. “I think that we represent what other cities are going to look like in the future," she said. "This is a model that many people can follow.”

Credit Nathan Cone | Texas Public Radio

Republican Congressman Will Hurd, who is not seeking reelection, said a march like this one demonstrates how people of different political beliefs can unify.

“I’ve seen the division increase since I’ve been in Congress," he said, "but what this shows is stuff way more unites us than divides us. San Antonio knows that. Here today you have Republicans and Democrats, Independents, and people who don’t vote, and everybody’s showing their support for the principals and concepts of how the way Dr. King lived.”

Andrews Sullivan agreed with that sentiment. “We’re never going to be able to agree eye-to-eye on everything," she said, "but we can certainly come together on most things, and that’s what this is representing.”

Looking for a match

Also at the event on Monday were volunteers helping Reggie Campbell, a San Antonio photographer who's fought leukemia for three years.

Ashley Frolick with GenCure said he's exhausted nearly all of his treatment options. "As of right now, a marrow transplant, a perfect match, is his best hope for a cure," she said.

So workers from GenCure spent the day registering potential donors who might be able to help African Americans like him. They added about 30 people to the Be The Match Registry.

Credit Bonnie Petrie | Texas Public Radio

Frolick said it was especially challenging for African Americans who need bone marrow transplants.

"They have a 23 percent chance of finding their match," she said, "whereas all the other groups are at about 40 percent range, and Caucasians have a 70 percent change of finding a match."

She said she hopes many more sign up online. "And then afterwards ... it's two cheek swabs on each side of the cheek," she explained, "then you're set to go."

"At the end of the day, the more people who join the registry," Frolick said, "the higher a chance a patient has of finding the match they need, so we need everyone to join. Everyone."

Donating isn’t difficult…it’s like a long blood donation.

“It last long, it’s about four to six hours, but you’re very comfortable, and any kind of travel expenses or meals are actually paid by the Be the Match registry, so if you’re afraid because you have to take off work and you have to spend money, that’s all covered.”

The holiday in Texas

Security measures were also in place at the march, and one measure reflected the new concerns technology poses to public events.

San Antonio police, in "conjunction with the FAA, FBI, and TSA," closed the airspace over the march route until 5 p.m. "This airspace restricts all aircraft, specifically UAS (drones) from operating during this event from the surface to 1000 feet above the ground," the SAPD statement warned.

It made an exception for authorized drones from media organizations that sought permission ahead of time.

Credit Jack Morgan | Texas Public Radio
Participants at the MLK Day March.

MLK Day is a holiday in San Antonio. City Hall and most municipal offices were closed on Monday. Recycling, organics recycling, and garbage pickup scheduled for Monday will be collected Tuesday. Tuesday pickup is rescheduled for Wednesday. A complete list of closures is at SanAntonio.gov.

Bus service and some parking were also affected on Monday. VIA Metropolitan Transit service ran on a Saturday schedule. Visitors to downtown enjoyed a break from paying the on-street parking meters. VIA also provided free rides to and from the MLK march.

San Antonio wasn't the only Texas community recognizing MLK Day as a paid municipal holiday or celebrating King's message.

Last week, the Corpus Christi City Council unanimously approved an ordinance to observe the holiday, which is already observed by Nueces County and throughout the state of Texas. Officials said adding the holiday will cost the Gulf Coast city $1.1 million in salary, overtime and benefits.

Houston held its own event, called the 42nd Annual "Original" MLK Day parade. The procession included floats, first responders, local elected officials and a variety of marching bands. The city held the first MLK Day parade in the U.S. after it was approved by the King family in 1978. A parade was also held in Dallas.

James Earl Ray assassinated King in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968. The civil rights leader was in the city to show support for striking sanitation workers.

Jack Morgan can be reached at Jack@TPR.org and on Twitter at @JackMorganii.
Joey Palacios can be reached at Joey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules.
Bonnie Petrie can be reached at Bonnie@TPR.org and on Twitter at @kbonniepetrie.
Norma Martinez can be reached at Norma@TPR.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1.
Sascha Cordner, Nathan Cone and Fernando Ortiz Jr. contributed to this report.

Jack Morgan can be reached at jack@tpr.org and on Twitter at @JackMorganii
Joey Palacios can be reached atJoey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules
Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1