The partial government shutdown blocked the 2019 Martin Luther King Jr. Day ceremony from the Old Courthouse in St. Louis. Nevertheless, about 50 people joined civic leaders and elected officials on and around the steps for short speeches and prayers.
Mayor Lyda Krewson and Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed were among those who attended the improvised festivities in 15-degree temperatures before moving off to Leonard Missionary Baptist Church on North Compton for an interfaith service. Organizers remarked that driving to the church would not be frowned upon considering the weather, although it appeared most people opted to walk.
St. Louis resident Carrie Scott wouldn’t have missed the ceremony for the world.
“You know, I didn’t even think about it when I got up this morning. So I was going to come regardless,” she said. “I come out every year, as you can tell from my buttons. I’m out here to march and keep it going.”
In an interview, the Rev. Darryl Gray, known for his decades of civil rights activism, drew a parallel between the civil rights struggle and being unable to get into the Old Courthouse.
“We’re here anyway,” Gray said. “Dr. King was shut out of many places. Dr. King marched because we were shut out of many places. Many places we couldn’t go because of the color of our skin.”
The government shutdown is about one month old. Some 800,000 federal workers have been furloughed or are working without pay. Government employees in the St. Louis region work for a number of agencies and departments including the Transportation Security Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the IRS.
According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, people of color make up about 36 percent of the federal civilian workforce.
Father Ed Mundwiller saw echoes of racial disparity in one of his favorite King quotations.
“Saying that he would see the promised land, although he didn’t know if he’d get there with us,” said Mundwiller. “I know there still a lot of people not in the promised land. A lot of people in the United States.”
Continuing a family tradition, Blake Harris of St. Louis brought his 4-year-old son to the march.
“When (our son) was still in my wife’s stomach, we went to the Selma March for the 50th anniversary,” Harris said. “We do stuff like that.”
Holly Edgell is lead editor for Sharing America, a collaborative covering the intersection of race, identity and culture. This new initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, includes reporters in Hartford, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Portland, Oregon. Follow Holly on Twitter @hollyedgell.