KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Many have compared the protests from this week to the last time so many protesters took to the streets of Kansas City.
The year was 1968, just days after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Some people who witnessed both uprisings say there are similarities, but some stark differences, too.
Rev. Sam Mann has been a prominent activist in Kansas City for decades and will be the first to say that racism today, in some ways, is as bad as it ever was. But this time around, many, including himself, are hopeful something is different.
On April 9, 1968, a peaceful protest outside City Hall took a violent, chaotic turn.
“I don’t want to compare it. I want to call it a continuation,” Mann said.
Mann ran through tear gas on the streets during that unrest and has kept an eye on similar scenes that unfolded on Kansas City streets earlier this week.
He’s noticed striking similarities.
“They were similar to what we see today, the young people were out front leading this. The young people always are the ones that seem to get it started,” he said.
There are also some major differences between the modern movement and what happened in the wake of Dr. King’s death.
“This crowd looked different. It looks different,” he said.
Mann sees promise in the wide range of people walking the streets, pushing for change.
“The crowd has certainly been a more diverse crowd in age, gender and race,” he said.
When the unrest ended in 1968, six African Americans in Kansas City were dead, and police arrested more than 1,000 people. The damage to mostly black-owned homes and businesses totaled $4 million.
It’s different now, but for many, the same long struggle for justice and equality marches on. Mann is daring to remain optimistic.
“As long as we hold it in perspective, as long as we know that we’re not there yet,” Mann said.
While he was born and raised in Alabama, Mann has spent the past 50 years preaching and pushing for change in Kansas City.