Participants in the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Walk and Parade cross the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge in southeast D.C. on Jan. 17. (Photo by Lafayette Barnes)
Participants in the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Walk and Parade cross the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge in southeast D.C. on Jan. 17. (Photo by Lafayette Barnes)

Hundreds of people participated in a Peace Walk in Ward 8 with the family of Martin Luther King III on Jan. 17, the official holiday of his father, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to call on the U.S. Senate to pass voting rights and D.C. statehood legislation.

“I am out here today with my sorors of Zeta Phi Beta, 40 of us strong, to say that voting is the answer to many of our country’s problems,” said Alisha McLeish, a member of the sorority and the MLK Holiday DC committee that served as the prime sponsor of the 16th Annual Peace Walk. 

“We want the Senate and the White House to work together to pass voting rights legislation and D.C. statehood,” she said. 

Two voting rights bills, The Freedom to Vote Act of 2021 and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021, as well as The Washington, D.C. Admission Act of 2021, remain stalled in the Senate, unable to move forward due to a tactic known as the filibuster. 

A filibuster holds up a bill for floor consideration by a senator or senators and it takes 60 votes to break it. 

King, along with his wife, Arndrea Waters and 13-year-old daughter, Yolanda Renee, came to Washington to say his father’s holiday should not be celebrated. Instead, efforts should be intensified to see the filibuster suspended so that the voting rights and D.C. statehood bills will be considered by the Senate. The Kings also want President Biden to use his power to see that the bills move. 

The usual parade which occurs on King’s holiday did not take place due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Peace Walk

Many of the walkers gathered on the grounds of Nationals Stadium near Potomac Avenue SE, a new part of Ward 8, the result of recent redistricting. 

The walkers listened to speakers including Stuart Anderson and Denise Rolark Barnes, co-chairs of the MLK Holiday Committee, and Jamal Holtz, lead organizer of 51 for 51, a pro-statehood organization aimed at persuading the Senate to eliminate or suspend the filibuster for consideration of the D.C. statehood bill. 

The King family immediately took the podium when they arrived. Yolanda, despite her young age, expressed optimism about the bills.

“We need to have faith and hope,” she said. “We will get these bills passed.”

The King family joined Rolark Barnes, D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) and others at the front of the line, positioning themselves on Potomac Avenue. The procession moved briskly before embarking upon the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge. As the walkers continued, they soon reached Martin Luther King Jr., Avenue before concluding their two-mile walk on Good Hope Road in Southeast. 

In addition to McDuffie, Council members Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), Robert White (D-At Large) and Trayon White (D-Ward 8) participated in the Peace Walk. Both Whites count as candidates for the Democratic nomination for mayor on June 21. 

Mayor Muriel Bowser did not participate in the Peace Walk but did speak during a news conference, organized by Martin Luther King III at Union Station. 

Jenny Tang, sporting a Green Bay Packers cap and carrying a sign calling for voting rights, said she personally walked to “deliver Martin Luther King’s legacy.”

James Wright Jr.

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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