By Julissa Catalan
Via Michael Appleton for The New York Times
Activists all over the country used Martin Luther King Jr. Day as an opportunity to exercise exactly what he fought for—the right to peacefully protest for the Black community to gain respect, equality and basic civil rights.
The annual Martin Luther King Jr. birthday celebration at the Ebenezer Baptist Church on Peachtree Street—the church where Dr. King and his father preached—was the scene of a generational disparity: Older folks commemorated Dr. King while younger protesters still reeled from the racial tension brought on by the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
Around 200 protesters argued that the national holiday has become commercialized and the meaning of its origin lost. As a parade got under way, protesters would periodically stop to lie in the street with their fists pointing in the air, yelling, “We’re going to reclaim MLK’s holiday!”
“We will not allow those that actively subject us to an oppressive lifestyle to lead the parade or be in the parade,” Aurielle Marie, an activist and author, yelled during the protest.
During a service, protesters marched in front of the stage with a makeshift coffin, as they chanted, “Black people are dying!”
Organizers of the event supported the protest, even allowing one of the members to take the podium. He told the crowd he had had enough of “the MLK they shove down our throats.”
New York City
Hundreds of protesters organized a die-in outside of Bloomingdale’s flagship store on Lexington Avenue. In Harlem, protesters marched across a plaza—with signs asking for justice for Brown and Garner—while a banner reading “Black Lives Matter” was suspended in front of a church. Many then marched south through the Upper East Side, broadcasting Dr. King’s speeches from a mobile sound system.
“Martin Luther King’s dream hasn’t been realized yet,” said Norell Edwards, a graduate student from Washington, who protested in New York. “This is a way to try to finish his work and stand together with unity and equality.
Philadelphia hosted one of the country’s largest protests, where thousands peacefully marched through the city center, calling for an end to the Stop and Frisk policy by the city police, a minimum-wage increase, and more funding for public schools.
“This is to make people aware that it’s not just a day of service,” one of the protestors, Wesley Wilson-Bey, said at a rally outside the school-district headquarters. “People have relegated Dr. King to just cleaning floors and all that kind of stuff on this day, and that’s not what he was. He was a person who made things happen.”
Thousands also marched from St. Louis’ Old Courthouse—once the site of slave auctions—to Harris-Stowe State University, where the marchers joined a packed auditorium for an interfaith service.
During a musical performance, over a dozen demonstrators ran up on stage. One man grabbed the microphone and shouted, “St. Louis PD, KKK, how many kids did you kill today”
St. Louis police officers helped university security officers to eventually clear the stage.
“The difference this year is that people are more energized,” said Missouri State Senator Jamilah Nasheed, a St. Louis Democrat. “They are ready to rise up and promote change.”
Smaller gatherings also took place in other major cities such as Boston, Chicago and Washington, D.C.