When people board the Freedom Train in Silicon Valley on Monday to honor the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., they will be riding it to San Francisco for the last time.
And when this California train ride closes, the country will no longer have such a symbolic train ride. This was the last remaining Freedom Train out of the more than two dozen official Martin Luther King commemorative trains launched by King's late wife, Coretta Scott King, 30 years ago.
After a steady decline in interest, organizers from the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Association of Santa Clara Valley announced they will end the Freedom Ride after this year and focus on "other initiatives," according to association president Kathleen Flynn.
“We’re really sad about it, but we’ve seen it coming for the last seven years,” Flynn said, adding that organizers surveyed people throughout the years and “people’s needs change and what they think is important is not the same.”
When organizers made the decision earlier this month, 400 tickets had been sold, a fraction of the 1,600 tickets that were sold in 2008 after President Barack Obama was elected, Flynn said. As news circulated that this was the last ride, tickets sold out on Friday morning.
“We are just in a different time and people have different ideas of what’s important to them,” Flynn said. “A lot of people, sadly, don’t understand who King was and that a lot of our freedoms are due to his work and legacy along with other great leaders, like Rosa Parks.”
For several years, Freedom Train organizers have been saying they are on the verge of shutting down, citing budgetary woes. They even said it last year. But they always ended up coming up with the funds to finance the 54-mile journey, complete with grandmas and school children taking the train, and singing civil rights songs.
Abraham Menor 36, who is a community organizer and photographer at Silicon Valley De-Bug, was one of those school kids. He's been riding the Freedom Train since he was 10 years old.
"I think it's a sad issue for sure," he said Friday, "because this is one of the last type of efforts in Santa Clara County that was a consistent movement, to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement. It's sad. It doesn't provide anything for future generations."
The great irony of the train ride ending this year is that the ride coincides with the 50th anniversary of King's 1965 march from Selma, Alabama to the state capital, Montgomery to demand equal voting rights. That march is also highlighted in the newly released and much talked-about "Selma," a movie based on that epic march.
And of course, as Flynn herself noted, there is so much unrest nationwide stemming from the deaths of young black men, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York, who were killed by white police officers. That's why, she said, the theme of this last ride is "peace."
Flynn said the association is working with Mark Simon, executive officer for public affairs of Caltrain and SamTrans, to have a commemorative plaque in the train as well as a plaque in the African American Heritage House.
The train is scheduled to depart from the San Jose Diridon Station at 9:45 a.m. Monday.
— Bob Redell (@BobNBC) January 19, 2015