Freedom Train attracts new generation of riders for MLK Day

A new generation of civil rights advocates have joined onto an annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day tradition of riding the Freedom Train in the Bay Area.

"I think [King] was a real fighter and I have two dads, so it’s really important for me because he didn’t just fight for Black people, he fought for everyone," 9-year-old Apple Keller-McMallan said.

One thousand people boarded Caltrain's Freedom Train Monday for a ride from San Jose to San Francisco to honor King’s legacy.

For families, this was a chance to walk in the shoes of those who came before in the struggle for equality.

"To be able to experience this with my kids, my nephews and my niece, it’s a priceless moment," Nechelle Lemons said. "This is our second time doing this."

The ride began in 1985, rolling from the Diridon Station to Fourth and King Streets as a tribute to the civil rights era. A march through the streets followed.

"It is not just about Black people, it’s about all people," Cherie Kabba from Redwood City said. "Dr. King marched for everybody and everybody who’s out here with us today, this is an amazing, very emotional event."

The distance between the two cities is a little more than 50 miles, reflective of the march by King and protestors from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery.

"He made big strides for the fight for civil rights in America and we have to keep on taking steps to honor him," 14-year-old Aisha McCulloch of San Francisco said. "Keep on fighting against racism and discrimination because the fight’s not over."

Marchers spilled onto the streets shouting "freedom fighters" and over the bridge near Oracle Park. Above the statue of Willie Mays, King’s words of wisdom are on a banner that says "The time is always right to do what is right."

Even the new generation of participants said they hope the rally can advance progress, inclusion and understanding.

Civil rights advocates said this is a moment to stand up and step forward, recognizing the power and possibilities for the future, shaped by a leader of the past.

"I think it’s important to show that there’s still work that needs to be done to commemorate the progress that has been made but also to get re-inspired each year," said Dawn Martin of San Francisco. "It gives everyone an opportunity to think about how we apply King’s legacy to our lives each and every day."

Brooks Jarosz is a reporter for KTVU. Email him at and follow him on Facebook and Twitter @BrooksKTVU