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Austin Nonprofit To Celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day With Drive-In Rally

People gather around the Martin Luther King Jr. statue on UT Austin's campus on MLK Day in January 2020.
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
People gather around the Martin Luther King Jr. statue on UT Austin's campus on MLK Day in January 2020.

Each year on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, thousands march through Austin to honor the civil rights leader. But this year, due to COVID-19, the annual march and accompanying festival have been canceled.

Instead, the nonprofit that typically organizes the day's events, the Austin Area Heritage Council, is hosting a drive-in rally, where people in parked cars will listen to speakers and watch musicians perform.

The event will be held at the St. James Missionary Baptist Church on MLK Boulevard at 10:30 a.m. Monday. It’s limited to the 70 or so cars that have already registered to participate, but people can watch the 45-minute livestream from home here.

“This year, it’s going to be isolated,” said Cheryl Lee, the nonprofit's treasurer. “Everyone’s going to have a mask on. You’re not going to see the smiles on their faces. And participants will be in their vehicles.”

Last year, more than 10,000 people participated in the march, which traveled from the Martin Luther King Jr. statue on the UT Austin campus to the Capitol and finally to a festival at Huston-Tillotson University.

Lee said she feels changing the event this year to a drive-in is the right thing to do to keep people safe and avoid contributing to the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the area.

The theme of this year’s event is “The Other America,” based on one of King’s speeches addressing how America was not a land of opportunity for people of color.

“He’s basically saying that people who are oppressed, who are in poverty, who are constantly knocked down and aren’t getting opportunities because of the color of their skin, that eventually there’s going to be an anger that builds up in those people,” Lee said. “And it’s because they’re not heard. And if we ever take the time ... to hear them and understand them, then maybe we can move forward and help and change the way America is.”

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