Turnout for King Events Down on Rainy Holiday

Justin Berton, San Francisco Chronicle, January 19, 2010

It didn’t feel much like a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in San Francisco to Steve Zeltzer, a local film producer who visited the Yerba Buena Gardens memorial in honor of the slain civil rights leader Monday.

“This is a disgrace,” Zeltzer said as he looked around and saw just a few dozen people studying large photographs of King while listening to broadcasts of his “I Have a Dream” speech.

“In San Francisco there should be 100,000 people marching in the streets, talking about the things MLK stood for: equality, democracy, freedom,” Zeltzer said. “All these things are still relevant today, maybe more than ever. So where is everybody?”

Zeltzer was among those who, for two decades, marched on Market Street and gathered at Civic Center rallies on the King holiday. But this year, many were left to seek out smaller celebrations after the group that organized the city’s largest event disbanded in December.

The group’s chairman, the Rev. Cecil Williams, cited dwindling crowds and said it was time to allow a new generation of civil rights activists to plan such celebrations.

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Bad weather may have contributed to a lower turnout on the annual Freedom Train ride from San Jose to San Francisco, said Chuck Herndon, a Caltrain train master.

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Amy Wagner, a San Jose resident, rode the Freedom Train for the first time along with a group of three adults and 11 children, ages 1 through 10.

“Some of the children are learning about Dr. King in school right now,” Wagner said. “What better way to teach history and King’s legacy?”

According to the ride’s organizer, the 51-mile journey from San Jose to San Francisco is the same distance King marched in 1965 from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. Riders sang freedom songs and recited passages from King’s speeches as they traveled into the city.

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