Twenty five years ago, seven-year-old Melissa Cook and her grandmother boarded a "Freedom Train" honoring the life of Dr. Martin Luther King. The train ran from San Jose to San Francisco where it ended with a march through city streets. Cook remembered the moment as she once again prepared to board the annual Freedom Train pilgrimage for the
first time since.
"My grandmother," said Cook, "she's always made sure she kept us up to date on what's going on in the world."
The lessons of Cook's grandmother came spilling back as the Caltrain engine rumbled in place. Now that she was an adult, Cook said she wanted to again experience the annual celebration of Martin Luther King, while paying tribute to her grandmother.
"A lot of what she did for me, opening my eyes to the world around me, made me the person I am today," said Cook.
The specially designated Caltrain rumbled from San Jose to San Francisco, arriving at the 4th and King Street station around 11 a.m. A few hundred people spilled from the train and into the streets for the march to Yerba Buena Center for a celebration.
The annual event is a salute to King and others who paved the road before. The fact that the march coincided with the second inauguration of the nation's first African-American president was lost on no one.
"A lot of people they never expected to have an African-American president," said eighth-grader Austin Murphy, who made the trip to San Francisco from Tracy with her parents.
Many AfricanAmericans taking in the march part talked of growing up with parents and grandparents who struggled under discrimination.
"I've heard it from my grandparents as well -- all being born in the ssuth," said Murphy. "They had to deal with those problems but had to come through it."
Austin's father, Anthony Murphy, said he and his wife brought the two daughters to experience the Freedom march firsthand.
"I want them to understand the responsibility they have to carry this on," Murphy said, eyeing the marchers. "Martin Luther King was for equality and I want them to always stand for something."
The Freedom Train ride has been taking place for over 30 years. The event was a tipping of the hat to the original civil rights marches of the '50s and '60s.
Bobby Clyburn said he was concerned that decades after the civil rights movements greatest victories, young people were still taking some of its spoils for granted.
"It's still hard to get people to vote, which is bad," said Clyburn. "Because it's a free liberty and we take it for granted."
As Clyburn walked among the throngs of people -- some holding signs, some taking Iphone pictures, he allowed a small smile.
"Now we are out here parading to let them know we are alive," Clyburn said. "We need to work on helping each other to get better than what we are."