A reminder of King's message, optimism

Parade: Thousands lined the city street named for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to remember his legacy.

January 21, 2003|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

They huddled under blankets and wrapped themselves in heavy coats. They sipped hot coffee and pulled their hats far down past their ears. They held each other tight against the biting wind.

And they were the ones in the parade.

Several thousand others lined Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Baltimore yesterday -- nearly 35 years after his assassination brought angry riots to the city -- to sing, dance and remember a man who, they said, still gives them hope.

"He said that I could accomplish anything," said 16-year-old Octavia Thompson from West Baltimore, who marched with the citywide Youth Opportunity group on a holiday filled with speeches and remembrances nationwide. "He said that we're all the same color, we just have different skin tones."

The parade followed Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard from Eutaw Street to Baltimore Street, the shiny skyscrapers and symbols of city revival to the east and the blighted neighborhoods and drug corners to the west.

The disparity was not lost on those who marched yesterday in the city's third annual parade to honor the civil rights leader who would have turned 74 this month.

Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, the first African-American to hold statewide elected office, said King's legacy must be remembered by all Marylanders, not just African-Americans.

"There's still boarded-up houses. There's still joblessness. There's still lost opportunity," Steele said before the parade began. "That's the sobering point of this day: There's still a lot of the struggle left for us."

Steele marched near the head of the long parade with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Mayor Martin O'Malley and Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger. The mayor and his wife began the parade two years ago to help bring the city together.

"We owe it to every successive generation of Americans to tell his story and proclaim his life's work," O'Malley said yesterday. "It's a time for us to come together and realize there's more that unites us than divides us."

He was followed in the parade by a diverse range of groups that included the Jewish Teen Organization of Baltimore, the Gay and Lesbian Community Center and nine women from the Providence Baptist Church who sang "We Shall Overcome" while wearing radiant red robes and sneakers.

Residents of apartment buildings along the route poked their heads out of their windows to take it all in. Others climbed trees for a better view, while many children were treated to a view from atop their parents' shoulders.

The parade was one of several King observances in the Baltimore area yesterday. King's oldest daughter, Yolanda King, told nearly 700 people at a breakfast at Anne Arundel Community College that it is time "to give birth again to the dream."

"We must never forget the sacrifices, for in far too many circumstances, we have forgotten, and our memories have blurred," she said. "The civil rights movement was not a mirage, it was not a documentary, it was not a television special. It was live, and it was in living color."

For her, the holiday is a day of mixed emotions.

"If I had my druthers, I'd rather take my daddy to dinner than have all this hoopla," she said in an interview.

"But what I am so thankful for is the ideals and values that he taught me and my siblings will forever be embedded in the consciousness of the world."

Later, after hearing tributes to her father from U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens and others, King said, "We can choose to believe in the possibility of a better day and do our part to bring that day to pass."

In Baltimore later, at the start of the parade route, Consuela Lowery held her 15-month-old godson Jalen close to her and rocked to the marching bands. She has come to the parade since it began.

"It's about unity and peace and incorporating the ideals of Martin Luther King into our community," she said.

Jalen, she said, is too young to understand, but one day he will.

For now, she said, "He likes the noise."

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