By James Niedzinski
---- — 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.
People gathered in the Universalist church around 9:30 on Monday morning to make signs for the march, which lasted from 10 to 10:30 a.m. The church was filled with books, videotapes, newspaper clippings, crossword puzzles, coloring books and other information spreading the message of civil rights and nonviolent solutions to world problems.
Selectmen Paul Murphy brought along his family, as well as the family dog, for part of the march.
“This is an important event for young and old alike,” he said.
Christina Goodwin of Rockport said she believes it’s important for her children to learn about King. Her 5-year-old daughter Morgan came well prepared with a homemade peace sign.
Eric Hailman of Lexington marched with his family, after seeing the event listed through his son’s high school.
Powell Dixon of Gloucester marched with his sign which read “peace” on one side, “justice” on the other.
Dixon said there was not one particular issue that brought him out to march.
“There are few other role models that have exemplified peace so well as he (King) did,” he said.
John Prybot, who has volunteered in South America with the Peace Corps held up signs quoting King and Benito Juarez, former president of Mexico.
Prybot, who lives in Gloucester and works for the Sawyer Free Library, said he tries to make the event every year.
“The predominant message has always been peace and a nonviolent approach to our problems,” Ruchman said.
James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.