They marched for justice. They marched for peace. Most of all, they marched as a reminder of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and his forceful words.
Mikel Stevenson, of Spokane, joined Monday’s Unity March to show his respect for King and his timeless message. More than 1,000 people turned out for the annual parade to support civil rights despite the cold and fog.
“I believe Martin Luther King gave his life for what he believed in,” Stevenson said. “Like King, I am a firm believer in nonviolence. There is a troubling atmosphere in the country right now. You have to wonder how much of the anger against President Obama is founded in racial issues.”
Marchers clutched warm coffee cups along with their signs and the hands of friends and loved ones as they made their way from the INB Performing Arts Center to the heart of downtown Spokane.
Stevenson has attended the past couple of marches, including the one two years ago when police foiled a bomb plot along the route.
Among the many speakers, perhaps the most unexpected statement came from Spokane police Chief Frank Straub, when he apologized for the behavior of every police department in the country during the early years of the civil rights uprising.
“We didn’t do it right and we didn’t do it good,” Straub said. “We have also had some unfortunate incidents here in this city. I apologize for that, too.”
Before the march began, LaRae Wylie of the Salish School of Spokane welcomed the crowd in Salish and English, followed by her rendition of a Salish honor song.
Then it was Mayor David Condon’s turn. He had just returned from a trip to pre-inauguration events in Washington, D.C.
“It was an incredible celebration,” Condon said about the festivities, but he had no qualms about leaving a little early. “I knew I wanted to be back in Spokane for this.”
James Wilburn, the new president of Spokane’s NAACP branch, said his mission is to get young people involved with local organizations working for justice. He shared his experience of living just 16 minutes from where King was assassinated in 1968.
“That day, it was like hope died. People were crying in the streets,” Wilburn said. “But I look out on you today and I see the dream is still alive.”
A drum corps from Rogers High School’s marching band led the way. Some carried signs, others played musical instruments and many simply walked.
Ellary Lockwood, 12, and her friends were twirling rainbow-colored banners near the front of the march.
Lockwood said she’d been in the parade once or twice before. Her friend Reyna Flores, 13, said it was her first.
“I just like going,” Flores said, “and I love flagging with my friends.”