The organizers of the Bay Area’s annual Freedom Train event to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. are hoping to keep the dream alive as tickets sales trickle in for Monday’s annual trip from San Jose to San Francisco.
The Freedom Train is more than just a special ride on Caltrain; it is a nearly 30-year tradition organized by the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Association of Santa Clara Valley, organizer and association president Kathleen Flynn said.
The ride commemorates the 54 miles between Selma and Montgomery, Ala., which King and other civil rights activists marched in March 1965 in the fight for equal rights for all races. The San Jose-to-San Francisco route is about the same distance.
The Freedom Train concept was started by King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, who pulled together volunteers and funding from local police officers’ associations three decades ago to start the train in the Bay Area and other regions, Flynn said.
The MLK Association each year charters a train from Caltrain for the annual ride where speakers, performers and others celebrate the life and legacy of King.
It costs the association about $5,000 to hold the event and any proceeds from ticket sales go to the group’s scholarship fund, Flynn said.
However, only 300 tickets had been purchased as of today with only a few days before Monday’s ride, which is worrisome for the future of the event, Flynn said.
“We may not run the train again next year if we do not have better sales,” she said.
Last year only about 1,200 people rode the train. There is a 1,600-seat capacity and in past years the train has been full, she said.
“The train is in trouble now,” Flynn said. She lamented that “it may have outlived its purpose.”
She said “if we can’t pack our train” there may be a farewell ride next year, effectively marking the end of a decades-long tradition that draws participants from all over the region including Sacramento and parts of Central California.
Flynn said this year will be a busy ride with U.S. Marshals members onboard to discuss their involvement in the civil rights movement. According to Flynn, “they tell incredible stories.”
There will also be gospel singers going from car to car during the ride and San Jose city councilman Ash Kalra will also be speaking.
She said state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, and the San Jose police Chief Larry Esquivel are some of the local dignitaries expected to ride the train this year.
A children’s group will sing on the train, and Flynn said there is always impromptu singing and storytelling onboard.
“It’s really beautiful,” she said. “I’d hate to see it end.”
Before the train leaves the station, volunteers from the MLK Association and other volunteers from San Jose’s Sacred Heart Community Service will be collecting canned food and baby clothing.
“We need to start working together,” Flynn said. “King said he wanted to be known as a man who fed the hungry when he died.”
Flynn said the San Jose train is the last Freedom Train in the nation and the ride commemorates more than just King, but other civil rights leaders including John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln and recognizes the widespread impact of the equal rights movement.
The ride will be different this year with an express train leaving from the Diridon San Jose Caltrain station at 10 a.m. and going directly to San Francisco’s Caltrain station.
It is expected to arrive around 11 a.m.
In previous years there were stops in Sunnyvale, Palo Alto and San Mateo, Flynn said.
Roundtrip tickets are $15 and are available online at http://scvmlk.org/freedom-train.
Tickets can also be purchased the day of the event at the station from MLK Association members.
Freedom Train tickets cannot be purchased through Caltrain.
A march led by the Northern California MLK Community Foundation will meet participants at the San Francisco station before heading to a daylong San Francisco celebration to honor King at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and Gardens near the Moscone Center.
More information about free activities and events is available at http://sfmlkday.org.
Sasha Lekach, Bay City News