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Retired Denver pastor who marched with Martin Luther King compares protests past and present

Rev. Peters: Current protests more widespread
Protest
Posted at 6:00 PM, Jun 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-22 08:53:09-04

DENVER  — The Black Lives Matter marches taking place across the U.S. had their roots in the boycotts, civil rights protests and marches of the 1950's and 60's.

Pastor Emeritus James Peters, of New Hope Baptist Church in Denver, took part in some of those earlier marches, along with Dr. Martin Luther King.

We asked the 87-year-old to compare and contrast the protest marches now, with what happened back then.

"The march in Washington was the height of it," he said, referring to the August 1963 March in the nation's capital.

"We had marched in Albany, Georgia and in Birmingham Alabama," he said. "Selma didn't come until 1965. That was a major move, a major time."

Peters recalled being asked by a reporter how many people might show up for the march in Washington.

"I said, well we're hoping for a hundred thousand.' We got 250,000."

He said it was a momentous occasion.

"People began to come and they brought their children," he said. "It was like a Sunday picnic... all these thousands of people, some with their feet in the water of the reflecting pool."

He said back then, 70 percent of the crowd was black. He said recent marches, following the death of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis Police officer, involved crowds that were predominantly white.

The March on Washington, capped by King's "I have a dream" speech, was peaceful, but there was violence afterwards.

"Less than a month later, the Klan set off a bomb in the 16th street Baptist Church and those 4 little girls were killed," he said.

And in March of 1965, there was more violence as 600 peaceful protesters tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge during a march from Selma to Montgomer.

Peters said King put out the call to do the same march again.

"We had 2.600 people lined up to make that same march that they had gotten beaten up for on Sunday, and we didn't know what would happen but we were there," he said.

Peters told Denver7, the big difference between present day marches and those he took part in was the scope.

"This (current) one has caught on all across the country," he said. "People see the picture of that man dying with a (knee) on his neck, and they're appalled."

When asked about rioting and how they compared, Dr. Peters said, "We had riots in Detroit., where people burned down 3000 of their own homes, which I thought was crazy."

He said the recent looting and vandalism doesn't begin to compare.

In addition to the larger scale of the protests, he said the big difference is there are many, many more white people involved now, which he said bodes well for change.

He said he's hopeful that one day Black parents, who now have to explain to their children -- how to act when confronted by police -- won't have to do anything differently than White parents.

Dr. Peters said this Juneteenth is the time to talk about the Big Aura.

He said MLK mentioned that one of the reasons marchers went to Washington was to "cash that check."

"You promised us freedom, justice and equality, that as American citizens we would have access to all of these things," he quoted King. "Well, we've come to Washington and the check bounced."

Peters said the Big Aura is "reparations."

"We gave reparations to the south," he said, "to pay them for how we beat them in the Civil War. We hooked up to Native Americans so they could get casinos and they're making money all over the country. What do we have?"

He said he doesn't have an estimate on the cost of reparations, but said there are some mathematicians that can "tell us how to get the billions that it would take to give us an equal shot."

"If America wants to do it, America can do it," he said.