The annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. March sponsored by Community Cemetery Association got kicked off promptly at 10 p.m. down Commerce Street to Union Baptist Church.
The crowd, many who came of age during the civil rights movement and still others, too young to have been born, came to honor King, who pioneered a movement of freedom, dignity, equality and justice through peaceful protest.
A dozen more waited for the procession at the church.
At 35, King became a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and at 39, he lay dead from an assassin’s bullet.
“No one person in the history of black America has inspired a nation as much as Dr. Martin Luther King’s 17-minute speech on Aug. 28, 1963 regarding freedom, justice, equality and mankind as the I Have a Dream speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial,” said the guest speaker, the Rev. Claude Axel, pastor of Mt. Pilgrim Baptist Church in Corpus Christi. “Yet, in spite of the dream, the Ku Klux Klan is still alive in America.”
A former pastor at St. Luke’s Church in Refugio, Axel’s poignant question resonated through the crowd, “What would Dr. Martin Luther King say if he were alive today?”
The preacher said King would be pleased with some things but displeased with others.
More than four decades after the Civil Rights Amendment, Axel said a disproportionate number of young black men fill the prisons rather than the colleges. Remnants of the slave mentality continue to exist, he said.
“He would demand that America answer questions,” Axel said.
King would be pleased that the United States elected its first black president, yet there are some issues King would demand answers.
Axel said the NAACP has lost its influence, the common usage of the “N” word is depleting dignity among black youths, and a focus on learning is diminished by unfair advantage. The preacher said God has been taken out of the equation and black children are still being judged by the color of their skin instead of their character.
“Pull up your pants, stop wearing saggy, baggy pants thinking you are cool, respect yourself, have some pride, no bumping and grinding!” he said. “Your are somebody, you have a rich history... you might not like the teacher, but like what the teacher has to offer.”
Axel said King condemned cursing used by people of all color, especially the use of the “N” word.
“We forget its origin or maybe we never knew,” he said. “Those over 40 cannot forget the language. They lived in a time when the word was derogatory and degrading.”
Axel asked the marchers to rise above life’s challenges, to keep holding on to the dream.
“Keep on marching... we will become brothers and sisters, walking hand-in-hand,” he said.