Hundreds of people marched through downtown Spokane this morning, celebrating Martin Luther King’s vision of equality and nonviolence with what several longtime observers said was the largest crowd in the Spokane event’s history.
“Today was the biggest,” said Ivan Bush, a longtime civil-rights voice in Spokane and the equal opportunity officer for Spokane Public Schools. “It gives me hope that our community is really on the verge of coming together and living the ideals that Dr. King so eloquently laid out for us.”
Spokane’s annual Unity March began this morning at the INB Performing Arts Center, where people packed the lobby and balconies to hear speeches from Bush, local officials, and finally the Rev. Percy “Happy” Watkins – who produced a rousing speech made up in large part from portions of King’s famous “I Have a Dream” address.
Watkins, who has given the speech countless times in area schools, churches and public events, tweaked the words just a bit ¬– name-checking President Obama at one point – but he brought the crowd to a roar when he reached King’s well-known conclusion: “Free at last, free at last, Thank God Almighty we are free at last!”
The crowd spilled onto the streets and marched south on Bernard and then west on Main Street to River Park Square. The march, which stretched for blocks, included teens and retirees, parents pushing their kids in strollers or hoisting them onto their shoulders, and representatives of schools, churches and political groups carrying signs.
Some of the handmade signs quoted King or the Bible, or carried messages of peace and equality. Even the old standby, “Make Love, Not War” made an appearance.
Jim Burks, 75, carried a sign with the full text of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech printed on one side and a newspaper photograph of the relatively small march from 1994 on the other.
“That’s just a drop in the bucket,” compared to today’s crowd, he said. “This day here, when I see all of these people – it says they have their hearts open for freedom and equality for all. It shows love.”