An estimated crowd of more than 1,000 men, women and children were on hand Monday as Atmore paid tribute to slain Civil Rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with its annual MLK Day Parade, organized by Concerned Citizens of Atmore.
The caravan of marchers, pickups pulling boats and decorated trailers, motorcycles, cars and other conveyances was cheered on as it progressed from its Houston Avery Park staging area, onto the street named for King, up Ashley Street and back on MLK for a return to the park.
With a cadre of Northview High School JROTC cadets leading the way behind an Atmore Police patrol unit, a flotilla of floats constructed by dozens of churches, civic clubs, educational groups, and commercial entities passed along the parade route. An Atmore Fire Department truck and another police unit brought up the rear.
Many conveyed birthday wishes to King, who was felled by an assassin’s bullet in 1968, while others featured signs containing Bible verses or some of King’s most famous quotes, and several urged residents to keep King’s dream of racial equality alive.
Spectators lined city streets and sat in groups in yards or on the trunks of parked cars. While for many the parade offered a chance to share fellowship, others were there for the symbolism represented by the parade and the day.
“This holiday means that we can take this one day and come together and remember how people lost their lives for our freedom,” said Lynn Johnson, as she and Delores Graves viewed the parade from the intersection of Carver Avenue and Ashley Street. “Dr. King fought for so many people, that we could have a dream.”
Graves pointed out that the pair had witnessed the local MLK parade “every year, for several years.”
Participants laughed and swapped greetings with spectators while they tossed candy, beads, stuffed animals, Moon Pies and small toys to spectators as the caravan progressed. Children scrambled to grab the tossed items. Young Zyriah Finklea proudly hugged a stuffed animal as a tote bag full of goodies lay at her feet.
But, as Myesha Richardson pointed out, there was more to the day than just candy and toys. She said the parade and the reason for it also provided a learning experience for the younger set.
“It’s important that the children be here,” she said as she, her daughter Harmony and her sons, Jermel and Preston Jaleel, waited for the parade to reach the area along MLK Drive where they waited.
“I feel that, in this community, they haven’t really been getting the message. But with the different groups this year, they are getting the message out there a little bit more, so the children will understand what it’s about.”