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San Antonio celebrates MLK's dream with the biggest march in the U.S.

Hundreds of thousands of people turned out at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day March on the East Side on Monday.

Busload after busload brought people from one of three park-n-ride locations and dropped them off at the Freedom Bridge at Martin Luther King Park.

"Oh, I love this big crowd," Alicia Watson said. "I see all different type of nationalities, creeds, different races. I like to be a part of this. I like to see all the people come together as one marching for one cause.”

Patrick Watson accompanied her. "[King] was an advocate of voters' rights," he said. "And that's what it's all about — for rights for everybody ... not just one race, but for everybody."

The march began at 10 a.m. at MLK Academy and then made its way over more than three miles to Pittman-Sullivan Park for a celebration that included speeches, performances, a health and wellness area, a youth area, and food and merchandise vendors.

Bexar County Judge Peter Sakai, who took office last week, was among the several active and retired political leaders at the event. The march is a tradition for him too. “I've been here for the last 20 years. So this is not my first rodeo,” he joked.

District 9 Councilman John Courage shared similar sentiments. "We've been marching for years and years, and we want to continue to do so. It doesn't matter if I'm on the city council or not. I think it's just part of the community we belong to," he said.

Henry Cisneros, former San Antonio mayor and U.S. secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Clinton administration, said it's a tradition for him too.

“This is a reflection on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King by a city that cares about equality and justice and progress and opportunity," he said. "It really is a special city in that regard.”

He added that the event has extra meaning because it's in San Antonio.

“Not only is this one of the largest in the country, but this is one of the more diverse marches in the country," Cisneros explained. "That's just the city that we are. And this falls really on natural turf. The ideas of Dr. King grow naturally in San Antonio.”

The march to honor the slain civil rights leader returned for the first time since the pandemic began.

Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Calvert said during last week's commissioners court meeting that the MLK march is one all San Antonians can be proud of.

"We have a very unique legacy with the Martin Luther King March in San Antonio," he said. "We have the largest march in the country. It's the largest march in the country because everybody feels welcome. It's been intentional to have the connectivity with all races."

Cary Clack, a columnist with the San Antonio Express-News, was the event's keynote speaker.

King's birthday became a federal holiday in 1983, but Texas was one of several states that refused to recognize it at first.

The event is organized by the San Antonio Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission.

The group also sponsors a scholarship program with funds that this year were supposed to come from a private business. But when that deal fell through, the Bexar County commissioners stepped in to help.

Calvert pushed for the commissioners' vote to award $35,000 to help fund some of the scholarships.

"We want to allocate dollars towards scholarships to Bexar County students to help them also get their education and come back here," Calvert explained during the commissioners court meeting, "and make an impact in the world as King has done."

Brian Kirkpatrick and Nathan Cone contributed to this report.

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Jack Morgan can be reached at jack@tpr.org and on Twitter at @JackMorganii