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Oakland MLK Day march salutes a different side of Dr. King's legacy

"Reclaim MLK's Radical Legacy" march and rally celebrates Dr. King the revolutionary
"Reclaim MLK's Radical Legacy" march and rally celebrates Dr. King the revolutionary 03:30

The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday has become a national day of service with plenty of tributes to America's pre-eminent civil rights leader.  But in Oakland, an annual march is staged to remember a different Dr. King; a man who was reviled by the public for speaking up against conventional thought.

12-year-old Gabriel Potter knows what most Americans do about the struggle for civil rights waged by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  

"He had the 'I have a dream' speech and marched on Washington. I've heard that multiple times," said Gabriel.  "Most people know about him.  Almost everybody knows about him!"

But the annual "Reclaim MLK's Radical Legacy" rally and march at Oakland City Hall is meant to tell the other side of the story.

"Sixty-three percent of the American population in 1967 hated Dr. King! Hated him!  Because he dared to speak the truth.  Because he dared to shake the status quo, right?" said Oakland activist Cat Brooks, who founded the march. "And now he's revered. But he's revered in a way that tells folks like me, and the folks that will show up today, that we should be quiet; that we should do this nicely."

It's the 10th year for the march that was started by Brooks in 2014, and there is nothing quiet about it. It is a hell-raising, unapologetically radical remembrance of a man who -- in his time -- ruffled a lot of feathers.  

"Today's important because we're going to connect some dots!" Brooks told the crowd of several thousand protesters.

It seemed everyone at the rally could find a quote from Dr. King that connects their particular issue to his legacy, from defunding police to saving Berkeley's People's Park. Mac H., an activist against incarceration of Pacific Islanders, claimed a connection to Dr. King in his fight.

"His message, years back, was very unpopular. Our message is very unpopular," he said.  "It's not the sexy topic.  We don't believe in incarcerating here."

And 15-year-old Simone Selke thought Dr. King was speaking about her concerns as well.

"I think that MLK Day is a good day to talk about, really, any issues," she said. "Martin Luther King once said the worst form of racism is genocide. I think that does apply to the situation happening in Palestine."

The violence in the Middle East gave new energy to this year's rally and march. Many of those attending were first-timers, drawn to the protest by the desire to see a cease-fire and a free Palestinian state.

"Dr. King's dream in saying that all of our children are going to be together -- the fact that everybody deserved equal rights -- I think the Palestinian people in that land are facing a very similar struggle," said participant Shanya Cureton. "And so, I think there's a lot of parallels and things."

So, when the marchers hit the streets as King did so long ago, it was clear that after more than 60 years, there were still plenty of causes to fight for.

"Things have gotten worse, not better," said Brooks. "This event has to be a recommitment to our fight and our determination. And to not give up hope and to continue speaking the truth."

And, perhaps, looking to Dr. King for inspiration. Even if the nation is still a long way from reaching the promised land.

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