Jan 12, 2024 - News

San Antonio's MLK March is among nation's largest

Local politicians interlock arms with participants during the 2023 march. Photo: Courtesy of District 2

Thousands of San Antonians and visitors will gather Monday morning for the 37th MLK March, which is recognized as one of the largest in the country.

By the numbers: Dwayne Robinson, chair of the commission organizing local Martin Luther King Jr. Day events, tells Axios the march has brought in up to 300,000 people.

  • The march typically draws 150,000 to 250,000 people.

What they're saying: Robinson says the march is not just a spectacle, but a powerful testament to the strength found in diversity.

  • "We have a unique community in San Antonio. We've always worked fairly well across racial and social lines. Our community is known to be a little bit assertive about change," Robinson says, pointing to San Antonio's history of being the first southern city to desegregate lunch counters in 1960.

Flashback: The march has roots in 1968, when Raymond Callies marched for improved infrastructure on the East Side. The turnout was modest that year, but it was a catalyst for a collective effort within the community.

  • The event as most San Antonians know it now took shape in 1987 when the MLK, Jr. Commission was created, solidifying the march as a local event and tradition.
  • The crowds have steadily grown over the decades, bringing in organizations and groups of corporate sponsors from throughout the state to march alongside residents. Notable guests have included Rosa Parks, members of King's family and the Freedom Riders.
Rosa Parks in 1987.
Rosa Parks in San Antonio in 1987. Photo: Robert Daemmrich Photography/Corbis via Getty Images

Between the lines: The march's evolution and annual success is bolstered by a robust support system. Robinson says there's a collaborative effort involving cultural associations outside of the Black community and local leaders.

  • Over the years, the march has not only served as a celebratory outlet — like in 2009 when it coincided with Barack Obama's presidential inauguration — but also as a platform for advancing causes.
  • This tradition, rooted in the East Side, stands as a source of generational pride, symbolizing the ongoing commitment to unity and advocacy.
  • Robinson says the typically good weather also supports a healthy turnout.

How it works: Marchers will leave Martin Luther King Jr. Academy at 10am. The procession lineup starts at 9am.

  • The nearly 3-mile route down Martin Luther King Drive ends at Pittman-Sullivan Park with a celebration that includes music, vendors and information booths.
  • VIA is offering free bus service to the march, with pickup locations at the Freeman Coliseum and St. Philip's College.

The intrigue: It's tradition for a garbage truck to lead the march, to symbolize King's advocacy for sanitation workers. It calls to mind the work he was doing for their cause in Memphis when he was assassinated.

A young teen holds a poster depicting the skyline of San Antonio.
Alexa Villanueva with the poster she created. Photo: Courtesy of the City of San Antonio

Alexa Villanueva, a 15-year-old student at Cole High School in Fort Sam Houston ISD, created the official poster for the march, which will also be used during related events.

  • Villanueva said in a statement that it was an honor to have the opportunity to visualize King's dream through her piece, which she titled "My Today, Our Tomorrow."

Zoom out: While the march is the centerpiece for local MLK events, the commission organized more activities leading up to Monday.

The bottom line: Robinson hopes that the unity felt during the march can have a ripple effect throughout the year and stretch outside of San Antonio.

  • "We need to celebrate that one day. That's all we have. Let's celebrate that one day, and let's celebrate each other."

Pro tip: Bundle up. An arctic outbreak is expected to bring freezing temperatures to the area on Monday. Robinson says there are no plans to cancel.

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