More than three decades ago, the Rev. James Burford of Spokane stood among a group of 200 marchers in Selma, Ala.
Police, armed with sticks and clubs, tried to stop them, he recalled. Crowds of people stared in hatred, some yelling racial slurs.
But the marchers pushed on, thanks to their leader: the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
“There was a great amount of fear,” recalled Burford, now associate regional minister for the Northwest Region Christian Church. “But Dr. King was there. He was the major inspirational leader. … I just couldn’t not go.”
On Monday, Burford marched again - not just for the ideals that King had espoused in 1965 but also in memory of the slain civil rights leader.
Along with 300 others, Burford took part in Spokane’s annual unity march from Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral to the Opera House downtown. For six blocks, the crowd sang gospel songs and waved signs with messages such as “Keep the Dream Alive,” before listening to speeches and music.
“(King) was a person of great commitment to the cause of racial justice,” Burford said.
“He knew that all of us would benefit in the long run from equal justice for all.”
When Burford marched with King 32 years ago, they faced threats of violence, he recalled.
But King gave them specific instructions: “No violence, no fighting back.”
They were told that if the police or the crowd threatened the marchers, they were to kneel down or roll their bodies into a ball.
Burford, who was 24 at the time, was a student at Chicago Theological Seminary. After he first heard about plans to march in Selma, he and a dozen of his classmates crammed into his Volkswagen bus and another car and drove to Alabama.
Among them was Jesse Jackson, founder of the Rainbow Coalition and former Democratic candidate for president. Because police were targeting black drivers, Jackson had to sit in the back seat, Burford recalled.
Monday’s march was different.
With his 16-year-old daughter, Rachel, at his side, Burford proudly walked down the street, waving to people on the sidewalk, reflecting on King’s legacy.
“King’s dream is one that many have,” he said. “We need to work toward that. … There’s still plenty to do.”
Another marcher, the Rev. Eugene Singleton, was in the Army when King first became involved in the civil rights movement.
Singleton, who listened to King’s speeches on the radio, didn’t realize then how much King would affect history.
Now, he marches for King’s ideals.
“This was a man willing to give up his life for a cause,” said Singleton, pastor of Spokane’s St. Matthew’s Baptist Church. “God sent him to heal his people.”
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