A group walking down his street signaled “vivid dreams and memories,” Kenneth Roberts said, of when he refused to stand up from an Atlanta lunch counter, and marched arm-in-arm through the streets, rallying for civil rights.
“To see the legacy still being passed on, it means a lot,” Roberts said as the Newtown Florist Club’s 41st annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day march passed by his house Monday. “The dream is still alive.”
Nearly 150 people gathered at the downtown SunTrust Bank for an event that started long before the day became a holiday. Many there said they march with memories of those years driving their steps.
“I do this because there was a time that I couldn’t do it,” said the Rev. Eddie Walker as he gathered with friends before the march. “There was a time I couldn’t dream of protesting.”
“You can never forget where God has brought you from,” added the Rev. Charles Dickey, president of the Interdenominational Black Ministers Association. “So if you don’t share it with our children, we’ll go back. And we can ill-afford to go back.”
After a short prayer, the march began at 1:30 p.m. Organizers asked the crowd to walk slowly, purposefully on their way.
As they moved through the middle of the streets, stepping over melting snow and ice, they sang hymns and locked arms.
Participants came with their own motivations, but many shared a similar sentiment, stressing the importance of teaching their children about the activists and struggles that came before them.
“My son asked me ‘why are we marching?’” said Will Campbell, principal of Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School. “And I told him, we’re doing what they did back in the day. They marched.”
As the group moved around the Gainesville square, Campbell fell just behind the group while helping his three children along. His wife, Bernadette, pushed their daughter Ella, 4, on a tricycle while Will Jr., 7, kicked forward on a scooter.
The crowd was filled with families and friends, and organizers say that’s how this event has remained so strong over the years. It’s become an institution in Gainesville’s black community, passed on from generation to generation.
“That’s how my children got started,” said Sarah Nash. “Now they’re all grown. And I’ve got grand babies here.”
As the one-mile march continued, drivers stopped by the police escort leaned out of their cars to show support. Others stood in their front yards and a few dropped their daily tasks to join in the walk.
King preached unity, said the Rev. Robert Washington.
As he looked around at those marching beside him, he said the community must stress working in harmony. In the future, he said, hopefully this crowd will grow larger and the faces more diverse.
“The greatest room,” he said, “is room for improvement.”