The morning of the third Monday in January always looks a little different at Auction Park. In the three decades that Memphians have gathered to honor Dr. Martin Luther King’s birth in a procession to the place where he was killed, the crowd has shrunk and grown. The winter sky can blue or gray, the ground might be muddy or icy. The sounds accompanying the march have included the rumble of ATVs, the bass of speakers on the back of the truck, and this year, the Whitehaven High School marching band.
Its a poignant annual ritual helmed for many years by the Commission on Religion and Race and Dr. Isaac Richmond. This year, the local Teamsters took the lead. Following ceremony and visibility of the MLK50 commemoration last year, the march serves as a way for every day folks show up and resound the responsibility of carrying on Dr. King’s work while living in Memphis.
Workers who didn’t have the day off, many of them in the service industry, line up along the streets and at the windows for a few minutes to watch the march. The arrival was announced by the pulse of percussive notes from the band with the teenagers behind the instruments shivering between sets. Fathers bundled their young children up for the march, adding the I AM A MAN shirt the local AFSCME chapter was giving out as a final of warmth and solidarity.
Elders waving their signs weathered by years of January sun and wind. Baxter Leach, one of the sanitation workers that was a part of the 1968 strike was put into a horse drawn carriage at the head of the procession, his walker by his side.
Looking at this year’s event gives us glimpses at the folks in Memphis who are committed to continuing the work of Dr. King. It puts us in a current between the past and the future.
This story is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit reporting project on economic justice in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today. MLK50 is also supported by the Surdna Foundation and Community Change.