Thousands gather at UT-Austin, march to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.

Aria Jones

Thousands of people celebrated Austin’s 26th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day march, gathering at King’s statue in UT’s East Mall on Monday.

The event held at the statue honored King’s legacy and civil rights work. Speakers included University President Gregory Fenves; march coordinator Brenda Harris Burt, who is the director of undergraduate and alumni relations for the African and African Diaspora Studies Department; Edmund Gordon, the vice provost for diversity; Cherise Smith, a department chair for the African and African Diaspora Studies Department.

“This holiday gives us a chance to reflect on and celebrate all of the individual stories and people who have followed Dr. King’s footsteps and helped improve lives for so many and lead us to a better future,” Fenves said at the event.

Fenves also took a moment to recognize the 50th anniversary of the John L. Warfield Center, an institution Fenves said made diversity, inclusion and equality part of the moral foundation of UT.

“In over a decade as director, (Warfield) would help lay the groundwork for a transformation of this University, where racist and discriminatory practices would be challenged and changed,” Fenves said.

Gordon said King’s words, such as “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” should be taken seriously.

“All around us, forces of injustice seem to be advancing: white nationalism at the borders and on our campuses, predatory sexuality all over the news, gun violence seemingly unending, the failure of our schools to provide an equitable education for our most vulnerable, problems of inequity even in faculty compensation at a University as established as this one,” Gordon said.

Gordon noted several historic changes at the University, including the first black students coming to campus almost 70 years ago, the first black professor receiving tenure 55 years ago and UT becoming one of the first universities in Texas to admit women in 1883.

 



“In the past, the University has spent money, time and space to commemorate those who attempted to maintain injustice and exclusion,” Gordon said. “It’s time that the University take its time, its resources and its space to commemorate the advances that the University has made over the last 150 years in becoming an inclusive institution.”

After the program, attendees marched to the south steps of the Texas State Capitol for a rally before continuing to Huston-Tillotson University for a community festival. Boxes to collect canned goods and nonperishable food items for the Central Texas Food Bank were placed at each stop. More than 40 elected officials were recognized at the rally for attending the event.

Joseph Frilot, a 2016 UT alumnus, said he has lived in Austin for six years but never attended a Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration. He said he was surprised to see so many people of different ethnicities attend the event.

“People say that Austin is a quite liberal city, but we still have a lot of challenges when it comes to racism and inequality,” Frilot said. “To see everybody come together and rally for MLK and rally for change and rally for racial equality is awesome.”