Long-absent Easter parade is back in step

Bands lead way down 5 blocks of Pennsylvania Ave.

April 04, 2010|By Kelly Brewington| julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com | Baltimore Sun reporter

The men would stride around in sharp suits and shiny shoes while women sashayed beside them in creamy pastel dresses and hats as elaborate as crowns. Evelyn Watkins would take hours arranging her frilly new dress and make certain every Shirley Temple curl was in place.

That was 50 years ago, when the annual Easter parade was the can't-miss event of Pennsylvania Avenue, the hub of black entertainment in Baltimore. Then, 25 or so years ago -- no one remembers when exactly -- it disappeared.

But Sunday, the first Easter parade in more than two decades returned, complete with bow ties, fancy hats and the sounds of gospel.

"I'm so excited it's back," said Watkins, 62, who marched in the parade as a member of St. Peter Claver Roman Catholic Church, which helped organize the event. "It brings back all the memories. There would be confetti as you walked down Pennsylvania Avenue, everyone in pinks and blues. The bands, the dignitaries, everyone would be out. And all evening, people would be out socializing."

With four marching bands, a handful of church groups and a smattering of neighborhood leaders, this year's event, which ran just five blocks, from Cumberland Street to Presstman Street, was tiny by comparison. There was no confetti or bustling restaurants, and entertainment venues have long since been replaced by carryouts and liquor stores. But the display of community was exciting nonetheless for those who have missed it.

"Our children need to understand how important these events were," said Charlotte Woodland-McIver, 68. "And we need to explain the historical importance of this neighborhood."

Channel Banks, assistant director of the Baltimore Twilighters, a community marching band that performs across the country, said her members, who range in age from 5 to 30, were most excited about marching in the neighborhood. Whoops and applause greeted the green-and-white-clad marchers as they reached the parade's end, at Upton Park.

"This is a neighborhood really plagued with a lot of violence and gangs," Banks said. "But that's not all it's about. People forget that this can really be a positive place."

Linda C. Richardson, Pennsylvania Avenue Main Street manager, said in all her efforts to revitalize the corridor, the most frequent suggestion she gets from residents is to bring back the Easter parade.

"It's a way to bring people together and a give those who left a reason to come back," she said. "We're trying to bring back the vibrancy and the pride. I'm a realist. I know there are issues here. But I see all the wonderful possibilities."

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