Crowds line streets for MLK parade

Many chose to see parade over inauguration

ST. PETERSBURG - It was a rare convergence of historical events in Black History that left thousands in St. Petersburg with a quandary.  Should they attend the annual Martin Luther King Day parade downtown, or stay home and watch Barack Obama's second inauguration as president?

For Pearl Singletary, she chose to attend the parade.  After all, the 46-year resident of St. Pete hadn't skipped one in two decades.  

"I didn't want to miss it," Singletary said.  "It was a tossup between coming here and staying home.  So I decided to come," she said, wearing a Martin Luther King Day t-shirt in red, white, and blue.

She was joined by thousands of others who lined places like Martin Luther King St. or the waterfront along South Straub park.  Bleachers were erected for watchers to enjoy local marching bands that stopped to perform.  Politicians drove by waving. Businesses sponsored floats, sometimes with King's photograph on the front and sides.

The St. Petersburg parade is among the oldest in the nation, and longest running in Florida.

The fact that it coincided with the president's inauguration and speech made the event even more special, according to Sevelle Brown, the parade organizer.

Brown said he had been in touch with King Day organizers in the nation's capital, and they were promoting the historical significance King's birthday and Obama's swearing in ceremony.

"We'll partner with you any day, Mr. President," Brown said.  "Therefore, in D.C., in inclement weather, and in the sunshine state, in perfect weather, both of us are honoring the memory of the single most important man with the single most important message," Brown said.

The fact that the president is beginning a second term was a direct result of King's work, Brown said.

During the parade, children watched excitedly as people on floats tossed candy, t-shirts, and plush toys into the crowd.  In some cases, the kids would gang rush a stuffed animal that fell short of the waving hands and instead landed on the pavement.  

For Sanika McCree, she hopes her kids, 9 and 4, get more out of the parade than just playtime.

"We've taught them a lot," McCree said.  "He's reading all the signs and asking what everything means.  So of course we have to teach him everything," she said.

Jontrice Williams said she brought her young son to the parade to teach him about the civil rights leader as well.

"My son's asking me, 'who's Martin Luther King?'" Williams said.  "So we've been researching him all the way to this day."

As for the problem of both events going on at the same time, Ron Jones said he had a plan to see both.   

"That's what the DVR is for," Jones said.


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