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San Antonio Has Canceled Its MLK March, But Plans To Host Virtual Events Instead

San Antonians participate in the 52nd annual Martin Luther King Jr. March in January 2020. The in-person march has been canceled for 2021 due to COVID-19 concerns.
Joey Palacios | Texas Public Radio
San Antonians participate in the 52nd annual Martin Luther King Jr. March in January 2020. The in-person march has been canceled for 2021 due to COVID-19 concerns.

San Antonio’s MLK Commission, which oversees the annual march held on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January, voted in late August to cancel the 2021 event over COVID-19 concerns.

The march takes place on San Antonio’s East Side, a historically Black community, and is considered one of the largest MLK marches in the country with more than 300,000 people participating in 2020. However, uncertainty over COVID-19 in the coming months drove the commission to cancel the in-person march and to plan online events.

Dr. Keely Petty is the chair of the city’s MLK commission. She said it was her suggestion to find a safer means of celebrating the life of Dr. King and continuing his dream.

“The decision was made from speaking with medical professionals and the fact that most events of that nature had been canceled due to COVID-19,” Petty said.

The cancellation is the latest in a string of local events that were canceled or postponed due to the pandemic. The 11-day annual FIESTA was first postponed from April to November and then later fully canceled for the first time since World War II. Wurstfest in New Braunfels, a November event, was canceled earlier this summer.

In recent months, cities across the country have experienced social unrest after the killing or injuring of Black people at the hands of law enforcement. The MLK march is often seen as a unifying moment during otherwise divisive political times. 

District 2 Councilmember Jada Andrews-Sullivan recently introduced a resolution declaring racism as a public health crisis, which the council approved in August. She said even without a physical march, a virtual one would allow more people to participate who otherwise couldn’t attend.

“Even though we are in climate that has an uprising of voices that have been heard and are still continuing to make their voices known, this is the platform where we can show what true unity and what true togetherness looks like and we can use different ways of doing that and different forms of doing that through his virtual world,” Andrews-Sullivan said. 

Marchers participate in the MLK March in January 2020.
Credit Jack Morgan | Texas Public Radio
Marchers participate in the MLK March in January 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic has killed more than 180,000 people in the United States since January and more than 6 million have tested positive for the virus. In Bexar County more than 800 have died and the 46,000 people have tested positive. The virus has disproportionately affected people of color in both infection and deaths.

“We do know that COVID has hit the African American community at higher rates than other communities,” Petty added.

Although daily case numbers in Bexar County have declined in recent weeks, local health officials have had concerns about a potential resurgence of the virus in the fall and winter.

She added that finding potential keynote speakers who could have flown into San Antonio to address marchers was also proving difficult.

“Nobody is interested in travelling, but they are interested in doing something virtually,” she said.

Full details haven’t been released but Petty said the virtual march would be conducted like other large scale events, drawing reference to the Republican and Democratic National conventions as well as virtual events seen at the March on Washington at the end of last month.

“We’ll have speakers; we’ll have persons from the San Antonio community coming on and giving voice to what the dream has meant for them,” Petty said.

The MLK march is the largest local event in 2021 to be canceled so far.

Joey Palacios can be reached at Joey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules.
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Joey Palacios can be reached atJoey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules