MLK Freedom Train makes final historic run

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ByDavid Louie KGO logo
Tuesday, January 20, 2015
MLK Freedom Train makes final historic run
A Bay Area decades-old tribute to the civil rights era ended Monday when the Freedom Train made its last trip.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- After three decades of honoring the civil rights leader, this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is the last time folks will get to ride the Freedom Train in the Bay Area, which is also the last Freedom Train running in the entire country.

PHOTOS: The Bay Area remembers Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The San Jose to San Francisco route was chosen by the widow of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. because the distance between the two cities is roughly equivalent to the 54 miles traveled by King and his fellow protesters when they journeyed from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery 50 years ago this March.

"A person that doesn't come out to celebrate Martin Luther King probably doesn't know about him. They're not aware of what he's done - to make this country the great country that it is today," said Ocie Tinsely, African American Heritage House.

The Freedom Train pulled out of San Jose's Diridon Station at 9:45 a.m., traveling nonstop to the Caltrain station at Fourth and King streets in San Francisco. More than 1,600 passengers purchased tickets at $10 a pop.

Declining ticket sales and difficulty obtaining sponsorship for the event are the reasons Monday's ride will be the last one. But those making the historic trip say the lesson on King's teachings will continue. "We've been reaching out in the community. Nobody's interested. They know ticket sales have been declining steadily for seven years, and it's the last train," explained Kathleen Flynn with the MLK Association of Santa Clara.

"We wanted to commemorate Dr. King's legacy as a family and show our children how important it was the legacy that King left for us," said Nicole Davis.

"The struggle is never over. The thing is, the train is ending but that's just one small step towards our goal, our destiny," explained Sanali Phelps.

The train holds special meaning to one three-generation family, led by to sisters, who were 13 and 7, living in Selma when Dr. King led the march to Montgomery. They want the next generations to know what the civil rights leaders of the 1960's achieved.

"They paved the path for us so that we don't have to hold our head down, we don't have to step aside when someone marches, we don't have to go to the back door, we don't have to use special bathrooms. We should be able to use any bathroom. We should be able to walk down any street," said Georgia Coleman of San Jose.

Ten year old Tashya Williams says the train brings to life lessons her teacher has been teaching. "She was teaching us about the march and black history, and I found it like cool and interesting for Martin Luther King to stand up for African Americans," said Williams.

Another student, Grady Whelan, did a report on Dr. King. He knew about segregation.

"They were separating people depending on their race," said Whelan. "That was wrong."

This was the latest Freedom Train operating in the U.S. and many say, it will be missed.

"The struggle's not over. Things like this keep it on peoples' minds, and it's a shame that it's going away," said Michael Montgomery, a Freedom train supporter. "It takes a village and we're all one family. This is important and I can't believe this is the last train."

In San Francisco, Mayor Ed Lee commemorated Dr. King by talking about how the city can improve in 2015.

He spoke early Monday morning at a community breakfast at the Metreon. Lee wants the upcoming year to focus on making San Francisco affordable for all and delivering on old promises.

PHOTOS: Martin Luther King Day celebrations held across the nation.

"What Martin Luther King really stands about is delivering on old promises. The promises of equality have been with us for decades and generations. The promises of having economic opportunity and being successful, they are not new promises," said Mayor Lee.

Lee will see a screening of the film "Selma" on Monday with fifty public school students and talk about its lasting message afterwards.

Hundreds also marched from San Francisco's Caltrain to the Yerba Buena Gardens.

The one and a half mile walk crossed the Lefty O'Doul Bridge and stopped at Willie Mays Plaza at AT&T Park to commemorate the crossing of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, a symbol of violence and victory in the civil rights movement.

A the end of the march, religious leaders will commemorate the vision of Doctor King and lead people in a spiritual reflection of his message.

ABC7 News Reporter Nick Smith contributed to this story.