Waving a small American flag and carrying a newspaper tucked under arm, Waurine Washington smiled as chants of “Victory today is mine” and “Love today is mine” were repeated from the steps of the Veterans Memorial Auditorium in downtown Fresno.
“I thank God to be here,” Washington, 78, said. “I’ve been coming to this occasion for years, I don’t know how many years, but a lot of years.”
On Monday, she was among a sea of people who stood outside the auditorium under brief moments of sunshine that pierced through dark clouds. Washington had just completed the march in honor of late civil rights leader The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. annual walk, first held in 1984, began at St. John’s Cathedral and snaked past City Hall, where several dignitaries offered their words in honor of King.
This year, the march gathered roughly 1,500 people, organizers said. Like years past, diversity in the crowd was evident, and so was the love for King, who was slain in 1968. The anniversary of his 90th birthday was Jan. 15.
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“For people to have that much love for him all those years, that means that his legacy is going to go on and on,” Washington said. “Isn’t that wonderful? It’s not going to end.”
The California Advocate edition under Washington’s arm featured historic photos of King and civil rights activist Rosa Parks — two people who worked to change the reality of racial segregation. The word “Arrested” ran over their heads. The images have particular meaning to Washington. To this day, she said, she rides at the front of Fresno buses to preserve the privileges she gained thanks to the actions of King and Parks. She said she was among the first African-Americans to ride at the front in Beaumont, Texas, at the passing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964.
Speakers Monday evoked King’s legacy while calling for equality and fair treatment of others. Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, pushed for unity and acceptance of all people. “We shall overcome today and we shall overcome tomorrow over the people who preach bigotry and racism and hate,” he said.
His message was amplified by Fresno City Councilman Miguel Arias, who told those gathered that he was once an undocumented 2-year-old immigrant. He said immigrants, documented and undocumented, represent “the best of America.”
“It’s not a time for a wall, it’s time for bridges,” Arias said to cheers and applause. Costa and Arias both called for the government to reopen and for immigration issues to be solved “once and for all.”
Speakers from local law enforcement thanked the community for working together to reduce crime and asked that King’s message of peace remain relevant in their communities.
Janeya Carter, 25, marched with her five children and husband. She said the children had been asking to attend the march days prior to the event. “It’s very important to learn about the history and educate our kids about what we stand for,” Carter said.
Carter said being at the march helps people remember to “get on the right path.”
“For everybody to get along on one accord and come together would be the best thing for us,” Carter said.