RALEIGH — The path through the capital city taken by about 2,000 marchers to honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday was just shy of a mile.
But for many along the route, a much greater journey stretches ahead before the slain civil rights leader’s dream will be fully realized.
They looked to the nation’s capital, where the first black U.S. president was being inaugurated for a second term, as evidence of the many miles the country has come.
But after passing a soup-kitchen line a block from the State Capitol, then the county courthouse, where a disproportionate number of blacks are sentenced to prison, and high-rise banks that stand as a reminder of the great disparity in wealth, the Raleigh marchers acknowledged the longer path ahead.
“I feel like it’s our duty to be out here,” said Sharon Cannon, 47, of Raleigh. “Dr. King died for us so we could have the right to be out here. We’ll keep going until everybody is treated equally.”
Throughout the Triangle, residents observed the federal holiday in a variety of ways. Some did public service projects. Others went to prayer vigils and church services.
Larry Williams, 52, a social worker in Durham who grew up in Person County, attended several events to get a better feel for the past.
“I just wanted to relive what our forefathers went through,” Williams said. “I’m just trying to keep the dream alive.”
Victoria Jones, 20, a Raleigh resident and N.C. Central University junior studying chemistry, said she was a fan of King’s nonviolent approach to change. Jones is a viola and piano player who volunteers at KidZNotes, an organization that offers children in East Durham an opportunity to learn classical orchestral music in an attempt to encourage positive decision-making and fight poverty in low-income neighborhoods. She hopes her chemistry studies will lead her into the medical field, where she can also help people by providing affordable health care.
Sally Moody, a Raleigh resident, marched with her three sons – Matt, 9, Sam, 12, and Jack, 14. They were there to support King’s message “that everyone should be treated the same,” as Sam said.
Patrina Hicks, who turned 38 on Monday, marched with Victoria Alston, 28, and three boys – Zyneak Alston, 6, Keshon Alston, 10, and Jahvareus Davis, 5.
The Raleigh residents celebrated the birthday and acknowledged the historic inauguration in Washington happening at the same time.
The women said they believed they would see another black president during their lives. But none of the young charges celebrating the day with them were interested in the job.
Jahvareus and Zyneak dream of being basketball or football players, they said. And Keshon, a master of baking red velvet cakes, wants to be a chef.
But they said they thought another black president would be elected, and soon. Keshon already has a candidate. “I think it will be Michelle Obama,” he said.
Older people at the march said they wondered whether Obama would be the only black president they saw.
They marveled at what had and hadn’t happened since the civil rights movement, and looked to the newer generations to continue fighting for King’s dream.
“As we become more of a global society, there still is a need to understand cross-cultural differences,” said Wake County Superior Court Judge Mike Morgan, one of the marchers. “This holiday is a reminder of where we once were, the progress we have made and the progress we still have to make.”