Remembering Martin Luther King with a drive

Published: Jan. 17, 2022 at 6:36 PM PST
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SPARKS, Nev. (KOLO) -Americans mark the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. with ceremonies, memorial services and, perhaps, a day spent doing good deeds. Here in our area, there’s an event every year not seen elsewhere, one borne out of determination in the face of rejection.

A diverse group of people gathered in the parking lot of the United Methodist Church in Sparks this morning. They greeted each other, shared posters to decorate their cars, and then came together in prayer.

They then mounted up and, with a police escort clearing the way, headed west down Oddie Boulevard. This main thoroughfare was not their destination, although ironically, it was one of those streets which local civil rights pioneer Onie Cooper had proposed decades ago be named for his hero, Martin Luther King.

That didn’t happen, of course. Local officials found reason to reject the name change for this street and others Cooper suggested. Finally, then Governor Bob Miller stepped in and did what he had the power to do, designating several miles of I-580 as Martin Luther King Memorial Highway.

It wasn’t what cooper wanted but he took it, hoping that in time that name would become common usage, a constant reminder of King’s legacy. Of course that too, didn’t happen. It didn’t help that along the 22 miles of roadway there are only a handful of signs bearing the designation.

“I know that Onie was always disturbed that there were not more signs,” says his widow Mary. “He would have liked a sign at every entrance.”

So, though thousands travel it each day, it’s likely most are unaware of the name.

This yearly caravan was his answer. Cooper led it each year until his death in 2017. Since then, others have continued the tradition.

“We get in our cars every year to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream , his joy, his vision for the whole world, for everyone,” says Reno Sparks NAACP executive Patricia Gallimore.

This year’s turnout may have been the largest and most diverse yet and, for a moment on this one day, those sharing this highway or watching this story are reminded of the man, his idol and the continuing struggle.

“He probably looking down on us right now,” said Gallimore of Cooper, “as well as Dr. King saying, ‘Hey this is what it’s all about. It’s about the people and it’s about us coming together.”

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