MLK Jr Peace Walk marches through downtown Waterloo - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

MLK Jr Peace Walk marches through downtown Waterloo

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WATERLOO (KWWL) -

52 years ago, Anna Mae Weems took a young Martin Luther King Junior by the hand, and brought him to a town which, she felt, needed to hear his message.

"He prayed so profoundly, I said to him -- I'd never seen him before -- I said, sir, you've got to come to Iowa. They've got to hear you pray," she recalled.

"My mother was explaining to him what was happening in Waterloo, here in the Cedar Valley, regarding race relations at that time. He was so intrigued, he wanted to come out and visit the city with her," daughter Frieda Weems added.

"11:00 that night, he was here in Waterloo," said Anna Mae.

He spoke at Waterloo West High School and the Iowa State Teachers College -- now the University of Northern Iowa. His first stop, however, was First Congregation Church -- right across the street from Washington Park near downtown Waterloo.

In the decades that have followed, the racial divide in Waterloo has blurred -- although tensions are not gone completely. The change was evident Saturday morning, as dozens of families took part in the 2nd Annual MLK Jr. Peace Walk. For them, it was inspiring to see members of all races walking side-by-side, hand-in-hand, to honor King's legacy.

"He did not die for black people, he did not die for white people, he died for all of mankind," said Anna Mae.

Someday, Anna Mae won't be around to tell her story. Which is why a committee wants turn the symbolic steps they took Saturday into a permanent part of downtown Waterloo. The group wants to construct a permanent "Martin Luther King Junior Peace Walk" at Washington Park.

In April, the Waterloo City Council denied the request. Opponents said they're not against the project, but would like to see it built somewhere else. They believe Washington Park should remain dedicated solely to President George Washington.

The Martin Luther King Junior Peace Walk Committee believes the park is the ideal location to memorialize doctor king's life, and the impact he had on people in Waterloo.

"Doctor King came here before he was really on the national stage, and Waterloo has that tie to a world-wide leader in civil rights. And we want to memorialize that, and tell children and the public about the history that Waterloo has," said committee spokesperson Mason Fromm.

Saturday's walk ended just outside Washington Park. Frieda Weems couldn't help but imagine what could be built there in the future.

"That's how history is passed on. That's how we embrace our community. That's how we instill pride. You have to have something to be prideful of. And together, we can grow as a community," she said.

Senator Chuck Grassley, several Waterloo City Council members, and the Waterloo Schools' Superintendent took part in Saturday's walk, and support a permanent memorial.

The Peace Walk Committee plans to bring the matter back to the city council in a few months.

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