Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Southeast was filled Monday with politicians, military units, marching bands and people of many races and colors who came out to honor the legacy of the drum major for justice and social equality whose message is needed now more than ever.
The 12th annual Martin Luther King Parade and Peace Walk began early Monday, Jan. 15, which the MLK holiday fell on this year. Ward 8 leaders and community activists gathered in a field next to the office of the United Black Fund, where people were reminded of how King gave his life for the prosperity that so many enjoy today.
The walk began from there, led by female faith leaders singing “We Shall Overcome.”
“We are out here to celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the single-most important man with the most important message in the second half of the 20th century,” said Keith Silver, who co-chaired the event with Washington Informer Publisher Denise Rolark Barnes. “Dr. King was a world renowned leader, but more than that, he was a friend to Washington, D.C. Dr. King used to come here as a friend of Walter Fauntroy for the call of DC Home, which was a forerunner to the D.C. statehood movement.”
Participants braved sub-freezing temperatures, which Barnes said were a welcome reminder that change doesn’t come without sacrifice.
“We have this little chill, this little bite in the air, but it’s all right because we are going to have a great day, and this great day is going to give us the warmth and energy to keep on moving,” she said.
Barnes and WJLA-TV reporter Sam Ford served as announcers for the parade, as a number of groups ranging from the Garfield Elementary School band to students from Malcolm X Elementary marched in honor of King.
Just before the march began, Moma Sandy Morgan asked participants old enough to remember where they were when King was assassinated on April 4, 1968.
“I remember in Washington, D.C., when they contacted Petty Green to go on the air and calm the people down because of the burning on 3rd Street and 14th Street and ruining our own community and our own stores,” Morgan said.
And now, 50 years after King’s death, the same corridors that were gutted in anger by people stuck in poverty are now lined with multimillion-dollar housing complexes. Even at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Morris Road in Southeast, the crumbling old homes from a different era have been replaced by new buildings and construction cranes.
D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton had to pause and take note of the emerging skyline as she walked the parade route.
The venerable District politician also took a moment to address President Donald Trump’s recent alleged slur of Haiti and African countries while expressing his desire to halt immigration to the U.S. from certain regions of the world.
“President Trump couldn’t have chosen a more inappropriate time, if there was ever an appropriate time, to make disparaging remarks about people of color through the world,” Norton said. “As we march today, we are making a statement that we stand for the King of love and not for Trump.”
Norton was trailed along the parade route by the same Metropolitan Police Department motorcycle unit that guides and protects the president every day. Mayor Muriel Bowser was next, with a happy gang of followers passing out green beads and wearing green beanies.
“This is a great celebration of Martin Luther King with all eight wards of the city,” said Bowser who was joined by several Cabinet members, including Tommy Wells, head of the DC Department of Energy and the Environment.
Wells, who grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, said a part of King’s legacy that resonates with him is the “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” a document that an imprisoned King wrote urging white clergy in Alabama to get involved in the civil rights movement.
D.C Council member Vincent Gray (Ward 7) said that one of the things King pushed hard for was to get people jobs and that he and fellow lawmakers today “need to do more to make that happen.”