Martin Luther King, Jr. day in Jackson, Miss.

JACKSON, Miss. – The annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day march here received an infusion of energy when more than 100 participants from the AFL-CIO Martin Luther King Holiday Conference joined the parade. Linda Chavez-Thompson, AFL-CIO executive vice president, served as one of the parade’s grand marshals.

The unusually cold weather did not prevent hundreds of families from lining both sides of Martin Luther King Jr .Drive in order to see and hear the 30 marching bands and drill teams, one of them from as far away as Chicago.

Marching under the banner, “Dr. King’s Dream: What the World Needs Today,” local businesses, churches, clubs and service organizations also participated. Members of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE!) carried large signs saying, “Stop the Injustice. Don’t Shop At Fred’s.”

Fred’s is an anti-union distribution company that owns a variety low-price stores in towns throughout the South and uses intimidation to keep its employees from joining the union. Along the way UNITE members answered questions from the people who then promised their support.

Contingents from the Transportation Union, Federation of Government Employees and the Machinists Union marched with steelworkers, autoworkers, teamsters as well as with members of the United Food and Commercial Workers.

Whenever the march stopped, union members sang and soon everyone was singing, “We are the Union, The mighty, mighty union!” and joined in a call and response chant of “Power, power, who has the power?” “The Union Has The Power – Union Power!”

One union participant, Tom Allen, carried a large sign saying, “No war with Iraq” on one side with King’s call to “find an alternative to war and bloodshed” on the other. Loudspeakers stationed along the route carried Dr. King’s speech at Riverside Church in which he announced his opposition to the Vietnam War.

The aroma of hot dogs and burgers cooking on grills filled the air. Young vendors sold soda pop and snacks. Participants in the March threw mini candy bars to the children along the way. Bea Reed, a member of the Mississippi Alliance of State Employees, waved to her 82-year-old father who has never missed the King Day March.

Chavez-Thompson said unionists had joined the march because, “We wanted to join in with the workers in Jackson, Mississippi, to continue to advocate the fulfillment of Dr. King’s dream of economic and social justice for all. It’s the most exciting and historical parade I’ve ever seen for a small city. It was just wonderful.”

The author can be reached at phillyrose1@hotmail.com