Published on Tuesday, January 17, 2006 by the San Antonio Express-News (Texas)
Marching with a Message
by Lisa Marie Gómez and Laura Jesse
It was over and done with in five seconds.
As two white T-1A Jayhawk jet trainers from the 99th Flying Training Squadron streaked over Pittman-Sullivan Park on Monday where Martin Luther King Day marchers had convened, critics of the flyover pointed their fingers skyward and shouted, "Shame, shame, shame, shame."
The 99th Squadron is the original squadron of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first U.S. military air unit of African American pilots. It is believed to be the first time a military flyover had taken place at an MLK march anywhere.
Despite the drizzle and light rain, police estimated some 100,000 people attended the San Antonio march, annually considered to be one of the largest in the country.
In the weeks that preceded the march, activists were angered by the MLK Commission's decision to invite a military flyover to honor King.
A few, including City Council member Patti Radle, considered boycotting the event but, in the end, decided to show up.
"I felt it was very important to be here and say what I want to say," Radle said, while holding a poster that read: "Keep King's Message Clear: Love, Understanding, Non-Violence."
People took to the streets with banners and signs that read, "MLK Lived for Peace. Military Lives for War," and chanted phrases like, "Shame, shame on you, MLK Commission."
Cordell Jones and his wife and two children have joined the march since his eldest child was born nine years ago.
"Personally, that's not what this is about," Jones said, referring to the flyover. "My hope is for my children to grow up appreciating people for their differences. I hope they don't see racial lines."
Jane Tuck, a member of a peace group, stood along Martin Luther King Drive and carried a sign that read: "MLK Was Against Militarism."
Some people raised their hands flashing a peace sign, while others shot the finger at them.
And some just walked up to the protesters and gave them a piece of their mind.
"The police don't lay down their guns. The firefighters don't lay down their hoses. So why do you want the military to lay down their arms?" Eloise Forge asked Tuck as she walked along Martin Luther King Drive. "You should be going against the government, not the military."
Tucker smiled and responded, "We are."
"I have not had the privilege of being anywhere that had it going on like you have it going on in San Antonio," said the Rev. James E. Meeks, an Illinois state senator and executive vice president of the National Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, who gave the keynote address.
Meeks said April 3, 1968 — the day of King's last public speech — is one of the most memorable days in history. It was then that an ailing King said he was not afraid of dying because he knew African Americans would make it to the Promised Land.
"Are we there yet?" Meeks asked. "We've got some problems in America."
Meeks said there is still much work to do to create a level racial playing field in schools, business, politics and society. He pointed to low high school graduation rates among minorities, the disproportionate number of minorities in prison and the small amount of the country's wealth that blacks own.
"Black people only own 2 percent of the nation's wealth," he said.
"African Americans are in a deep hole in America," Meeks said. "If we start focusing on white America as the opposition, we'll never make it."
He told the audience to reclaim the America that King longed and dreamed for.
"Stand up, be strong and happy birthday, Dr. King," Meeks said. "America is watching San Antonio, Texas."
© 2006 KENS 5 and the San Antonio Express-News