DETROIT — History repeated itself Saturday on Detroit’s Woodward Avenue.
Thousands of people gathered along Woodward at 9 a.m., near Forest Avenue, to start a Freedom Walk organized by the Detroit chapter of the NAACP and the United Auto Workers union. The walk commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s original Freedom March in Detroit.
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The rally culminated with speeches at Hart Plaza. Some of those on hand to speak included such high-profile figures as Martin Luther King III, NAACP President Ben Jealous, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Rev. Al Sharpton, and activist Dick Gregory.
Mr. Sharpton said it’s important to keep fighting for justice and marchers weren’t merely taking “a nostalgia trip down Woodward.”
On June 23, 1963, Mr. King delivered an early version of his “I Have a Dream” speech to 125,000 UAW leaders and members, spreading his vision of universal racial equality.
Four Toledo UAW locals sent busloads of people to Saturday’s march.
Sarah Ogdahl Laws, an international representative for UAW’s Region 2B, estimated about 800 people affiliated with the UAW from Ohio and Indiana attended.
Twenty Local 14 members boarded a bus in the UAW building parking lot on Jackman Road at 7:15 a.m.
UAW members marched for many reasons on Saturday.
Some marched for the same general desire for equality, while others also marched for equal education, voting rights, immigration reform, equal employment and housing opportunities, women’s rights, and affordable health care.
The throngs of people marching took up three blocks of Woodward Avenue. They held up posters from the original march, signs representing their union locals, signs supporting President Obama, Michigan state flags, rainbow flags, and more. One man held a sign handwritten that read “I STILL have a dream.”
Another man wore a giant American flag like a cape around his shoulders. A couple of people donned Obama masks.
Three people supported a larger-than-life inflatable of Mr. King. The crowd was a sea of diverse faces from Toledo, Defiance, Detroit, Chicago, New York, Buffalo, Cincinnati, and other cities. Some came from Virginia. Others came from the West Coast.
The humidity of the day was stifling within the bottlenecked pedestrian traffic. At certain spots along the march, the crowd packed the street from curb to curb.
The marching band from Detroit’s Martin Luther King High School led the procession.
Six-foot-tall Otis Wynn, a junior, marched in front of the band, impressing the crowd with drum major tricks, kicks, jumps, twists, and a few dance moves. He kept focused on activity directly ahead of him — at Hart Plaza — during the march.
Most of the Local 14 marchers said the cause they were most passionate about promoting was awareness of right-to-work legislation, which passed recently in Michigan.
Ray Wood, 59, Toledo-area UAW Local 14 president, said it decreases the collective-bargaining power of unions.
“We want everyone to be aware of how we will be negatively affected because wages and benefits are lower and safety conditions are worse in right-to-work states,” Mr. Wood said. “We understand everyone can’t make the same wage, but we want everyone to have their fair share and be part of the American Dream.”
Calvanita Peals, 63, has worked for General Motors for 29 years and is a Local 14 union member. She said she fears the passage of right-to-work legislation in Ohio because of the depressed wages she believes it would herald.
“They just keep take, take, taking,” she said. “They need to give back.”
Sharon Roach, 50, who has been a union member and General Motors employee for 28 years, echoed Ms. Peals’ sentiments and expressed how happy she was to march with other union locals because of everything Local 14 has done for her. “The union got me a decent job, decent wages, and I’m able to take care of my family,” she said.
Detroit residents were especially excited to host the march. In a city where one-third of the residents live in poverty and 47 percent of people 16 and over are illiterate, Mr. King’s original message hit home with a sobering impact.
“Detroit has come a long way,” lifelong resident Marie Greer, 56, said. “Racism has been exploded. But Detroit still has political corruption. Everybody’s in for what they can get out of it.”
Terry Tarrant, a student at Wayne State University studying governmental affairs, agreed. “We’re marching for the economic inequality, the poverty rate, the closing of schools in Detroit,” he said. “We need to send a message to Detroit lawmakers that Detroit needs help.”
Mr. Wood said he was pleased with how the day turned out.
“I consider this a huge success,” he said. “Tangible change can come about once you get people engaged and energized. You see these people and you know they'’ll continue to fight for rights: civil rights, workers’ rights, and human rights.”
This report includes information from the Associated Press.
Contact Arielle Stambler at: email@example.com or 419-724-6050.