By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Hundreds of people of all ages, colors and sizes lined the streets of Atmore’s northeastern sector Monday, January 15, to witness the city’s largest Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade ever, part of the local celebration of the iconic Civil Rights leader’s birthday.
“It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood,” said Sandra Gray, who organized the parade along with Karean Reynolds. “It was awesome. This was the biggest one in the whole history of the city. It was a record-breaker.”
The parade, sponsored jointly by Concerned Citizens of Atmore and Rho Xi Sigma Alumni Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity, included 75 entries, including several horse riders and a cart pulled by a mule.
Numerous pickups, cars, motorcycles and other vehicles — each festooned with a combination of pictures of Dr. King, posters with his most famous quotes on them, ballons and flowers — pulled decorated trailers or were themselves decorated in honor of the occasion. A few emulated King and marched the length of the parade route.
A tie for best parade entry evolved between Latoya Frye’s group (referred to as “the Frye Crew”) and the group from Empowerment Tabernacle, and the two split the $400 prize money that was set aside for first and second place. (Escambia County Board of Education President Loumeek White was the Grand Marshal.)
Spectators and entrants waved and shouted to each other as the parade progressed. Children (and a few adults) scrambled for handfuls of candy, moon pies, stuffed animals and other items thrown from participants.
Alanna Bailey, a first-time viewer, said she liked what she saw.
“It was great; I really enjoyed it,” said Bailey, who watched the caravan from the intersection of Carver Avenue and MLK Drive. “I’ve lived here my whole life, but this is the first time I’ve ever been to the parade. I was always either doing something else or working. It was very nice, and everybody was having a good time.”
Most of those who took part in the parade remained at Houston Avery Park for the annual MLK Day program, and more than 100 others joined them as the keynote speaker, Empowerment Tabernacle Bishop Catadro North, and other speakers talked of King’s vision of a unified community.
“We are better together than we are apart,” North said. “As I look around, I see togetherness. I see unity, I see strength, I see us as a city going somewhere. I think we are in our best place, in spite of all the darkness that you see and the spotlight that people try to make. This city is a great city to live in.
“Dr. King said we must live together as brothers or perish together as fools. I’ve found out that it’s better for us to live together as brothers than to perish as fools. We must learn how to put our resources together; we must learn how to get along with one another; we must learn how to understand one another.”
He also challenged those in attendance to develop and follow their own dream.
“Today we stand upon the great Dr. King’s shoulders,” he said. “He had a dream, and his dream has been fulfilled in many areas. But my question to you today is, what is your dream? Remember, love is the master key. When we love one another, love can open up any doors.”
Karean Reynolds, who sits as judge of Atmore Municipal Court and represents District 5 on the Escambia County Commission, talked of how King’s efforts to force federal legislation eliminated some of the unfairness experienced by people of color before that legislation was passed.
“The Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 64, those are all key pieces of legislation to help our community for years to come,” said the local official. “Prior to 1964, if a police officer or government official shot you or went upside your head with a stick or something, there was absolutely nothing you could do.
“It took Martin Luther King Jr. getting beaten and dragged by government officials on Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama, to spark an outrage across the globe. That’s kind of what led to some of those acts back in the 1960s that gave you the ability to vote for someone like me or (City Council Member) Jerome (Webster), to have some kind of representation on the government level. It was the steps he (King) took that put us where we are today.”
Russell Robinson (Dee-jae double R) entertained the crowd with music from Motown to funk, then officially opened the program with the recorded strains of the National Anthem, as sung by Whitney Houston.
The celebration also included presentation of the colors by a Navy JROTC squad from Northview High School in Bratt, Fla., and remarks from Pastor James Crook of Union Baptist Church in Bay Minette.
“We are the great dream,” Crook said. “We are where we are today because we came up on the shoulders of somebody like Dr. Martin Luther King.”
Alice Crook then led the crowd in singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (also known as the Negro National Anthem), and door prizes were awarded to those who could recite one of King’s famous quotes off the top of his or her head.
“This was one for the books,” Reynolds said of the parade and memorial program.