Freedom train fun, educational experience


By Khalida Sarwari

Bay City News Service

Bay Area riders had many reasons for boarding Caltrain's "Freedom Train," which ran from San Jose to San Francisco on Monday morning in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy, but most seemed to enjoy the experience.

The 27th annual commemorative ride was hosted by the Martin Luther King Jr. Association of Santa Clara in partnership with Caltrain to memorialize King's historic march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., in 1965.

San Jose's acting police Chief Chris Moore said that he rode the Freedom Train for the first time three years ago, but that Monday was his first time riding the train in uniform.

He said the experience was fun, but more than that, it was symbolic of the struggles of all people who have had to fight for their civil rights.

"My mother was raised in San Jose," Moore said. "She grew up at a time when her best friend, who was Japanese, was shipped off to an internment camp. So it's important to support efforts like this."

Helen Duty, a 71-year-old Milpitas resident, beamed as she watched a group of adolescents pass by her.

She brought along her daughter and twin 17-year-old granddaughters, Shanika and Tanika Hampton, and said riding the Freedom Train has been a family tradition since the girls were babies.

Duty said she especially enjoys the entertainment on the train, the spirited songs and speeches, and dancing and march afterward in San Francisco.

"It gives you something to look forward to year after year," she said. "The experience is just beautiful."

Her granddaughter, Tanika, said she hoped to one day bring her own children with her.

"It's different for young people," she said. "It's a whole different experience for us."

It was that experience that compelled San Jose residents Mark and Jessica Flaa to bring along their 3-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son on the family's first time riding the train.

"We're just honored to be here," Mark Flaa said. "I'd heard about it for years, everyone talking about the feeling of joy they had. It's important to teach (the children) about the civil rights struggle."

The experience was a family affair for many. Christina, a San Jose resident who declined to share her last name, said it was her second time riding the train with her daughter Shante.

Marveling at the diversity of riders on the train, she said that as a black woman, the experience is a reminder of "where we came from, the struggles in the past and how much more we need to do to move forward."

"I'm just glad I'm here," she said.

Freedom Trains were established all over the country by King's wife, Coretta Scott King, after he was assassinated in 1968, according to Kathleen Flynn, vice president of The Martin Luther King Jr. Association of Santa Clara.

Monday's train ride covered 54 miles, the same distance King and his supporters marched from Selma to Montgomery 45 years ago.

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