Huge turnout for Freedom Train rides

January 19, 2009 6:23:54 PM PST
Many of those at the Civic Center for the Martin Luther King Day celebration came to San Francisco on the Freedom Train, a chartered Caltrain ride from the Peninsula. It is a 25-year-old tradition, but the ridership Monday may have been the biggest ever.

Huge crowds jammed the San Jose station, waiting for the Freedom Train to start its 90-minute journey to San Francisco.

Lamont Bannister, his brother and mother were among the first to board. This was his first ride on the Freedom Train.

"With the inauguration happening tomorrow, Martin Luther King's birthday today, so it's important, good time to bring family together," said Bannister.

This was not only the Freedom Train, it was the O-train -- "O" for Obama.

"This is a very special time and I want our children really to be a part of that," said Nicholas All who brought his family.

Patrick Brock organized the ride from the Palo Alto station. Brock marched with King. He has lived during two historic times.

"Martin Luther King with a dream; Barack Obama with change," said Brock.

About a dozen riders came from a drug rehab facility in East Palo Alto called Free at Last. Riding the train was a re-affirmation of their dream as well.

"You don't have to live on drugs, you don't have to do drugs anymore and you don't have to have that way of life," said rider Clint Williams.

Jimmye Cannon is an old-timer who remembers when the first Freedom Train was actually a convoy of buses.

"The bus rides, the buses were slow, a lot of traffic," said Cannon.

Each car was full of hope. The songs and chants were of freedom, peace and love.

In one car, the youngsters chanted in Korean, "Yes we can." They said they wanted to practice what king preached.

"Help out and have a chance to mix all our cultures together," said rider Han Kim.

Veterans of the Freedom Train observed this was the biggest turnout they had ever seen. Said one rider, it was fitting because they were honoring a legacy while celebrating an inauguration.