Austin hosts first MLK community march since COVID-19


Evan Younger / Hilltop Views

Marchers continue down their journey. One advocate walks with a sign and sporting a t-shirt that reads “Defend Black Lives.”

After being on hiatus for three years, the people of Austin were able to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the city’s annual MLK Community March on Jan. 16.

With tower bells chiming, murmurs and conversations filled the MLK statue plaza at the University of Texas as marchers awaited speakers to kick off the morning celebration

UT’s statue of Martin Luther King Jr. on campus was the second ever constructed in the country, following MLK’s alma mater, Morehouse College. (Evan Younger / Hilltop Views)

First established in 1983 by the Texas Union African-American Culture Committee at UT Austin, Austin’s MLK Day march was later joined by Huston-Tillotson University in 1994. Today, the two schools work collaboratively with the Austin Area Heritage Council to host the march, festival and food drive for the entire community. University organizations, high school and middle school students held their banners to represent their community as they marched along the three mile route. 

Dr. Melva Williams stands at the podium, listeners from all around gathered to hear her speak. She smiles as they begin to applaud. (Evan Younger / Hilltop Views)

“We have the luxury of doing this because of Martin Luther King,” speaker Melva Williams shouted during her speech. 

Williams has been the president of Huston-Tillotson University since August 2022. The crowd roared as Williams gave her speech about social injustice, the impact of King and how as a community we need to come together to tackle issues not just for a day, but every day. 

As the march started, community members were joined hand in hand with their loved ones while the Northeast Early College High School band led the march through the university’s campus. The community connected with one another as they marched together, sharing stories of why they were marching and how excited they were for the festivities waiting for them at the end of the march.

“Five score years ago, a great American, whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation,” words of King greeted marchers as they stopped at their second destination: the Texas Capitol building. The Austin Area Heritage Council played King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech in its entirety for the community, acknowledging the importance of the whole message. 

As the marching line comes to an end, people gather near the front of the capital. (Evan Younger / Hilltop Views)

The community stood together, listening to the famous speech by Dr. King, holding hands with their children, embracing one another and bowing their heads in remembrance. “Thank you Dr. King,” the marchers shouted as the speech concluded, gratitude echoing across the capital.

After listening to more speakers such as the Director of Civil Services of Austin Joya Hayes and journalist and psychotherapist Dr. Nicole Cross, the community viewed a performance by the Tillotson University show choir. 

“When they were speaking, I really felt moved,” Ren Mooney, a St. Edward’s student, said. “One of my favorite things was the silence and collective awe for the speaker and the power for them.” 

Mooney went on to explain how they appreciated speakers like Hayes and Williams who highlight the importance of issues we face today and the history of why these marches started and why we still march. 

The march continued to the final destination and festival at Huston-Tillotson University. The festival at the campus was full of local artists, live music and organizations.

“The businesses and the music is a nice fun activity for us to come back together again cause people are all over the city,” Paulette Walls, a member of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, said. 

Walls attended the festival to help her international sorority educate young people at the event and give them an opportunity to be a part of an organization that enriches Black youth across the world. 

“Just to be able to come together collectively is always just so beautiful,” Walls said.