More than 10,000 marchers are expected today in a peaceful rally marking Martin Luther King’s birthday and demanding the country live up to what one organizer called the unfulfilled promises of the framers of American democracy.
“We’re coming there because we’re saying there is still some unfinished business,” said the Rev. Mark Tyler, of the Mother Bethel A.M.E church and a march organizer.
The march, which begins at 2 p.m. outside the city Board of Education Building on North Broad Street, will end at the corner of 6th and Market streets near the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, the Constitution center and the President’s House.
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“The promises that were made on that corner and in that area have yet to be fulfilled for everybody in America,” Tyler said.
Those marchers, who will parade through Center City streets and end near the historic district, will be one of the highlights of the MLK day observances, adding to the efforts of some 135,000 volunteers in the metropolitan area doing good works in what has since 1996 been called a day of service.
“We’re here to say that we need to continue to work to make sure that America lives up to the aspirations of those framers of American democracy,” he said.
None of that disturbs Todd Bernstein, one of the original organizers of the day of service, which started here in 1996, and now involves hundreds of cities across the country.
“There is no conflict,” Bernstein said of the two different ways to mark the day.
“The legacy is there for everyone to claim in whatever way they deem appropriate,” he said.
Indeed, Bernstein said he is going to join the march himself.
“The King day of service is whatever you want it to be,” he said.
Tyler said the route is no accident, because of the agenda of the organizers.
It begins in front of the Board of Education at 440 North Broad St., down Broad to City Hall, and then to 6th and Market.
He defined that as the same goals at the 1963 march on Washington, justice, jobs and education.
“Here we are 50-plus years later, and we are still marching for the same things,” he said. “I just find that absolutely amazing, it is unfinished business.”
Those attracted to the march range from college age to retirees.
Paul-Winston Cange, 21, is a junior political science major at Temple University, and is planning to march with what he estimates will be 400-500 fellow students.
In his view, community-police relations are a major issue brought to the forefront by police killings on Staten Island and in Ferguson, Mo.
He said the difference between the volunteers who will participate in the day of service, and those who will march amounts to a difference in the way King is viewed historically.
“It’s not against the day of service,” Cange, a member of a student group that is planning to march, said. “But it’s a way of taking away the radical aspect of Dr. King.”
He believes that the day of service is a component of King’s legacy, but not the entire legacy.
Two friends, Lou Ann Merkle, 61, a private school teacher, and Sylvia Metzler, 77, and retired, are planning to re-enact a protest they first carried out on Dec. 11, after the U.S. Senate report on torture was issued – they both had their heads shaved.
Some of their hair has since grown back, and they plan to have it shaved again at the Independence Mall march today.
After Metzler saw the Senate report, she thought, “I gotta do something to show how outraged I am, how ashamed I am of things going on in my country.”
Merkle puts it this way: “I’m sick of feeling powerless, and not expressing my grief. I’m grieving that this is where my country is.”