Thousands of UT students, Austinites and activists marched to remember civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., marking his birthday and the holiday’s 50th anniversary on Monday.
“This is a great opportunity for Austin and [the] surrounding community to come together to represent Dr. King, who truly stood up for justice, love, equality [and] peace for everyone,” said Brenda Burt, UT MLK march coordinator. “This is history that we should always continue.”
At the 23rd annual Austin community march, speakers echoed a message of unity in light of recent political events.
“Many of you are concerned about what’s going on in this country … and whether or not you have a voice to make things happen,” Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, said. “You should make a decision to fight harder here in America, harder here in Texas [and] harder here in Austin.”
One participant in the march carried a Black Lives Matter sign, and some sang and clapped as they moved between clusters of people.
Burt has organized the University’s part of the celebration for more than 10 years, which was originally started by UT students more than 20 years ago. Burt said the Austin Area Heritage Council was created to plan and include the Austin community in the march as well.
“Every year there has been probably the thousands [of marchers] that start here on our campus,” Burt said. “There are people who will also be at the Capitol grounds, and we always pick up people along the way.”
Marchers met Austin City Council members and local state representatives Donna Howard and Gina Hinojosa, both Democrats, at the Capitol, where University gospel choirs and
King advocated for equality during times of segregation and restrictive voting laws. King’s legacy includes his “I Have a Dream” speech to about 250,000 Americans on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 28, 1963.
It was finance sophomore Amie Jean’s first time participating in this particular march, and she said demonstrations nowadays are simpler than when they were silenced by police and politicians during King’s time.
“It’s important to not forget the events of history,” Jean said. “We’re marching for those who marched before it. I just think in the wake of recent events in our nation, it’s more important to demonstrate where our country has been.”
Burt said UT students started to make plans to erect an MLK statue on campus in 1987 as one of three MLK statues on U.S. college campuses. The first black students to attend UT, a group called the Precursors, integrated the University in 1956. Last year, some of the Precursors returned to their alma mater and were recognized during the Texas vs. UTEP
“Their experiences on this campus in the 1950s was compromised by discrimination, intolerance and racism,” UT President Gregory Fenves said. “It is clear that we have come a long way since the Civil Rights Movement … but there is no question that we still have a long way to go.”