Annual Freedom Train ride to honor MLK Day

January 16, 2011 12:13:05 PM PST
Bay Area residents coming out to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. day will enjoy a historic commute on Monday, thanks to Caltrain's 27th annual Freedom Train ride.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Association of Santa Clara has teamed up with Caltrain to host the commemorative ride.

Freedom Train rides started in the Bay Area in the early 1980s as a way for residents to memorialize King's historic march in Alabama, from Selma to Montgomery, in 1965.

The rides were established all over the country by King's wife, Coretta Scott King, after he was assassinated in 1968, said Kathleen Flynn, vice president of The Martin Luther King Jr. Association of Santa Clara.

"This was her loving gift to her husband," Flynn said.

Over the years, however, Freedom Trains have stopped running due to the economy, making the Bay Area's Freedom Train one of the last in the country, Flynn said.

"We've been very blessed that we have just enough money to keep it running," Flynn said. "Any money left over goes to our scholarship fund for underprivileged students."

The train departs San Jose's Diridon Station at 9:30 a.m., stopping in Sunnyvale, Palo Alto, and San Mateo before it arrives at its final destination in San Francisco at around 11 a.m., Caltrain spokeswoman Christine Dunn said.

The train ride covers 54 miles, the same distance King marched from Selma to Montgomery 45 years ago.

Once aboard the train, riders can participate in singing songs, learning about Martin Luther King Jr. and sharing memories, Flynn said.

"We have seniors who actually marched with Martin Luther King and they tell us really cool stories of what it was like and what he was like," Flynn said.

Once in San Francisco, Freedom Train riders can participate in a full day of activities hosted by the Northern California Martin Luther King Jr. Community Foundation.

The annual Martin Luther King Jr. March and Parade begins at the train depot at the intersection of Fourth and Townsend Streets at 11 a.m.

The parade will end at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts where the foundation has planned a full day celebration with the theme "Sustaining the Dream: Through Community and Service."

Events include a Mind, Body and Soul festival, as well as free admission and special events for children and teens at the Contemporary Jewish Museum and the Museum of the African Diaspora.

There will also be a special presentation, titled "King in Five Vignettes," featuring local musicians, performing artists and youth performers.

Organizers for Monday's events are expecting a high turnout, Flynn said.

With over 1,200 riders last year, Dunn said the Freedom Train has always been a popular event. Caltrain officials are urging people to buy their tickets early by calling (408) 861-5323.

Riders are also reminded to bring proof of purchase to the station so they can get their Freedom Train ticket, Flynn said.

The cost for a round-trip Freedom Train ticket is $10. Riders can take any train back toward San Jose after 1 p.m.