After 32 years of operation, the San Jose-to-San Francisco Freedom Train is expected to make its final trip Monday.
The annual Caltrain ride is one of many Freedom Trains that Coretta Scott King established nationwide to help celebrate her husband's legacy on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which is Monday.
Kathleen Flynn, the president of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Association of Santa Clara Valley, explained that the legendary civil rights leader's widow chose the San Jose-to-San Francisco route because the distance between the two cities is roughly equivalent to the 54 miles traveled by King and his fellow protesters when they journeyed from Selma, Ala., to Montgomery, Ala., 50 years ago this March.
Declining ticket sales and difficulty obtaining sponsorship for the event are the reasons Monday's ride will be the last one, Flynn said. She added that many of the local nonprofits her organization has approached for sponsorship have been less able to help in recent years because of financial constraints.
The law enforcement community's financial support for the Freedom Train has been unwavering, according to Flynn, who said numerous unions and fraternal organizations representing local police officers and sheriff's deputies have kept the train running.
However, police support for the event has not been without controversy.
In 2010, the San Jose/Silicon Valley chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People boycotted the Freedom Train because the San Jose Police Officers Association was among the donors that would be honored by event organizers.
The boycott was motivated by complaints that San Jose police used force and made arrests for minor offenses disproportionately in communities of color, allegations the POA disputed.
Despite the boycott, many in the community supported the Freedom Train and its police sponsors, Flynn said, including one 89-year-old black woman who had marched with King.
“She said, 'I want to buy a ticket to support those officers because it was the boys in blue who protected us when we marched from Selma to Montgomery,'” Flynn noted.
Recent high-profile cases involving police killings of black men, including Michael Brown in Missouri and Eric Garner in New York City, have caused some activists to say not enough progress has been made. But Flynn said the civil rights movement has succeeded in fostering a climate very different from the one in which she grew up.
“My sister, who is half black, was made to stand in the back of the school bus,” Flynn said. “I would see her get off the bus and cry.”
The final Freedom Train is scheduled to depart from San Jose's Diridon Station at 9:45 a.m. Monday and travel nonstop to the Caltrain station at Fourth and King streets in San Francisco.
Numerous events, festivals and programs celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day are scheduled at San Francisco's Yerba Buena Gardens & Yerba Buena Center for the Arts until 7 p.m. Monday.
Freedom Train tickets must be purchased in advance at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/937736.