Braving the elements to honor civil rights hero

Parade: About 45,000 turned out on a cold, dreary day to remember the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

January 22, 2002|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Leatrice and Louis Colvin and their two daughters drove from Harford County to downtown Baltimore yesterday to watch the city's parade honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who helped bring an end to segregation in the South and became one of the nation's most influential civil rights leaders.

They braved cold, snow and dreary clouds, joining thousands on the route.

"Just imagine how far people walked to get their rights," Leatrice Colvin said. "This is nothing. I'm standing here representing a lot of other people. This is another way of being heard, making noise, getting the message across about Martin Luther King and what he stood for."

About 3,750 people in 95 groups participated in the event, which was about a third larger than the inaugural parade last year. Organizers said about 45,000 people watched the procession, which began on Eutaw Street, traveled down the boulevard that is named in King's honor and ended at Baltimore Street.

Former world heavyweight champion Hasim Rahman, the grand marshal, waved from a Ford Mustang convertible. He was followed by Mayor Martin O'Malley with his wife, Baltimore District Judge Catherine Curran O'Malley, and their children, and other city officials, including State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy.

Many spectators said they came to enjoy the marching bands, see floats and hang out with friends. Mothers and fathers brought children to learn about King and listen to some of his speeches, which were played over loudspeakers on the grandstand.

The parade began about noon, just after a dusting of snow, and ended three hours later in bright sunshine. Many said they felt obliged to come in the cold to honor the accomplishments of King, who was born Jan. 15, 1929, in Atlanta. A believer in nonviolence, he established the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and led sit-ins and demonstrations against segregation.

In 1963, he gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech to about 200,000 demonstrators on the Mall in Washington. A year later, he won the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1968, at age 39, King was shot and killed in Memphis, Tenn.

"It's important that we come out as a city and celebrate the principles of Martin Luther King," said City Councilman Bernard C. "Jack" Young.

Young and others said parade participants demonstrated its theme: "Strength in Unity." Marchers included the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, churches, Jewish groups, Boy Scouts, gays and lesbians, veterans and an anti-war group.

Ingrid Mattison, 33, brought her son, Tevin Graham, 8, to watch the parade to "celebrate" King's life. "He wanted equal rights for everybody," said Mattison, of East Baltimore. "I wanted my son to see all the work he did."

Cordella L. Day-Burrell, 45, brought her son, Hamilton Burrell, 7. Day-Burrell is a huge fan of King and former President John F. Kennedy; several photographs of the men hang in her West Baltimore home. "I believed in what they had to say," she said.

Jean Tiller, 67, brought her great-grandson, Asante Denton, 8. Tiller remembers when King led the civil rights movement. "I saw all the changes," she said, including the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Tiller saw a "positive side and a negative side" yesterday.

Most spectators at the event - which ended in sunshine - were good influences, trying to learn about King, celebrate his life or pass along knowledge to younger generations, she said. But Tiller said she gets upset at people who did not take King's sacrifices seriously and felt angry when she passed several youths smoking marijuana. "It's disrespectful," she said.

James Tibbs, 52, came to watch his daughter, Tuesday, twirl a flag for the City College band. He said the parade was uplifting because it showed young people doing positive things, unlike those in media reports for committing crimes. "These are the kids we don't talk about, the cream of the crop," he said. "This is the other side of the coin. These can make it today."

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