ROCKPORT — It was in 1989 that a 6-year-old girl and her school friends, learning about life and works of slain civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., wanted to march for peace in his honor.
Monday, about 80 residents from Cape Ann and beyond came together to do the same in a now-annual march from Rockport’s Unitarian Universalist Society on Cleaves Street.
Monday’s federal holiday is set around the time of King’s birthday every year and his message of peace and social justice lives on in Rockport. The march was started by Lily Ruchman, and has become a tradition in Rockport ever since, with Monday’s march marking the 25th.
Lily Ruchman now lives in Portland, Maine, but her mother, Anita Pandolfe Ruchman, was on hand Monday and explained how her daughter got involved in social justice and human rights.
She said Lily had come home after learning about King from her first-grade teacher, Selma Bell. She was inspired to start her own march in town, after learning about King’s efforts for peace and equality and his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, Ruchman said.
“I asked her who was going to march, she told me ‘my friends,’” Ruchman recalled.
On Monday, marches shared those same ideals.
Ruchman said what surprises her most today was no other nearby city or town was doing anything special to observe King’s accomplishments.
Tom Gale, a Salem resident and member of Veterans for Peace, said he had listened to a recording of King’s speech on the Vietnam War earlier Monday morning, before he marched.
“It’s still relevant, even today,” he said.
Monday’s march and holiday also coincided with the second-term inauguration of Barack Obama as president, and Bill Grover, another member of Veterans for Peace and a Salem resident, said he’s concerned that the president’s policies, ongoing war and use of combat drones do not fit well with King’s message of peace. Both Grover and Gale have been marching in Rockport since the 1990s.