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Lexington citizens gather for Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom March

People attend the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom March for racial justice on Jan. 15, 2024, in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Matthew Mueller | Staff

Amidst the snow and ice, Lexington citizens gathered Monday afternoon to celebrate the life and legacy of civil rights advocate Martin Luther King Jr. 

The celebration consisted of Lexington’s annual Freedom March followed by an event held at Central Bank Center, where attendees gathered to listen to speakers and music as well as celebrate the accomplishments of King.

As the march began outside of Central Bank Center, participants walked to the tune of “We Shall Overcome” as hundreds of voices joined in and sang along.

Participants waving signs calling for peace on earth and equality walked down East Vine Street, turned onto Rose Street and made their way back to Central Bank Center walking along Main Street. 

Chase Fogle, a 15-year-old sophomore at Lafayette High School, said he came to show his support for King’s legacy. 

“I wanted to support MLK and what he did for us, because of what all he fought for. It led up to a certain point and it changed us forever,” Fogle said. 

The 2024 celebration marked 51 years since Lexington’s inaugural celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, according to a historical synopsis released by the MLK Holiday Committee Fund.

The celebration was founded in 1973, just five years after the assassination of King in April 1968. 

Lexington’s Martin Luther King Jr. holiday observance was founded by Jerry Stevens, the first director of the University of Kentucky’s Office of Minority Student Affairs, and Edgar Mack, a faculty member of the UK’s College of Social Work, according to the synopsis.

The co-founders were joined by Chester Grundy in 1974, who became the programs coordinator upon his hire.

Brenda Smith, 62, a retired activist, said she has been attending Lexington’s annual Freedom March for as long as she can remember. 

“I’ve been doing this for years, too many to even remember. A lot of people lost their lives for this. There are people that wish they could be here and can’t be here, that’s why this walk is very important for me,” Smith said. 

Braving temperatures in the teens, snow and ice, citizens gathered despite the dreary conditions. The cold weather did not deter the community from attending.

Emma Curtis, 27, a candidate for City Council in District 4, said she attended the event to acknowledge King’s work. 

“I think it’s really important that we acknowledge publicly and vocally that Dr. King’s work is not finished,” Curtis said. “I think too often that this holiday is used by many people to insinuate that the racism of the 1960s no longer impacts us today. The reality is that racism is alive and well in the Commonwealth right now and we need to stand up vocally against it and acknowledge that the work isn’t done.”

Familiar and noteworthy faces stood out amongst the crowd, including Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton, University of Kentucky President Eli Capiluto and state Sen. Reginald Thomas. 

“Yes, we are making progress but that progress must continue until we reach a day in which, as Martin Luther King said, we are all God’s children,” Thomas said.

Following the march, a commemorative program was held in the Central Bank Center, with performances by two children’s choirs, United Voices Lexington and United Voices Chicago, as well as a keynote from speaker Rev. Kevin W. Cosby. 

Other speakers at the event included Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman, Gorton and Capiluto. 

“Together we can lead by example, not tolerating or participating in hate or division, but instead leading with empathy and kindness and compassion,” Coleman said. “Dr. King also said darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that. We must not only remember his words but live by them to bring lasting change.” 

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