Joe Walker was nine years old that day, the day when he and his friends were kicking a can down the street in his Mantua neighborhood, and saw the huge crowd forming. Walker got as close as 39th and Haverford, a block away, when he got a glimpse of the attraction, by the dry cleaners, a man with a powerful voice capturing thousands of people. Walker recognized him years later as Martin Luther King, Jr.
Walker was raised in the neighborhood known to many as The Bottom. As a teen he got caught up in gangs. As a man, he found himself heading a youth development program. It was in that role that he ran across a photo from King’s historic 1965 visit to 40th and Lancaster, and traced its origins.
King was on his "Freedom Now" tour, visiting four northern cities to support local civil rights movements. That day he told the crowd: "I come to you … to tell you that you are somebody; don’t let anybody tell you that you are not somebody," according to the Evening Bulletin.
Moved by what he had learned in his research, six years ago, Walker decided to do something to commemorate the visit.
"It was a historical event that happened to me and my community," said Walker, 54, president and co-founder of the HUB Coalition, a community development corporation. "I just wanted to do a mural …. I wanted to make the photograph a mural to educate young people, so they would know he was actually here, and why."
Walker worked with various community organizations, the mayor’s office, and The Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia to create some type of tribute.
At noon Saturday, he will gather with community members at 40th and Lancaster, near the former dry cleaners, which is now a parking lot, to unveil a mural of King, a bronze bust in his likeness, and a state historic marker in a dedication ceremony.
"We’ve been pushing to bring these three pieces together," said James Wright, a coordinator at the CDC, People’s Emergency Center. "It feels great to see it all come together."
The program will include a drill team, remarks from the mayor, and a rendition of the Star Spangled Banner.