LOS ANGELES — The pomp and pageantry of the 34th Annual Kingdom Day Parade was on full display Jan. 21 as floats, high school bands, newsmakers and activists convened in South L.A. to celebrate the memory and legacy of America’s apostle of peace.
Thousands gathered on a crisp and sunny day to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 90th birthday, walking, driving or riding horseback along the three-mile parade route and dancing, laughing and celebrating King’s contributions to equal justice and opportunity in America.
Parade attendee Patrick Turner, who said he’s supported the parade for years, credits King for changing conditions for African Americans and other minority groups in the U.S.
“If wasn’t for him, a lot of people wouldn’t be where they are today,” Turner said.
Many of the people Turner referenced also attended the annual event, including Mayor Eric Garcetti, City Council members Herb Wesson, Curren Price and Marqueece Harris-Dawson, County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, state Assemblywoman Autumn Burke and U.S. Congress members Karen Bass and Maxine Waters.
Gesturing to the throngs of attendees, Waters said: “Look at the people who are out here. They know he was one of the most important persons in the universe and that he left a legacy that we must understand and we must follow.”
Wesson agreed, adding: “It’s a great day celebrating a great man, great country, and I think we’re showing there is still a lot of work that needs to be done. It’s our generation, so it’s our time to fight this fight for human rights and civil rights.”
Recent L.A. transplants Steven and Tammy Whitlow, who migrated to the city from Connecticut six months ago, said they were honored to attend and witness the parade for the first time.
“We’re just thrilled to have the opportunity to come to what we heard was the largest parade to honor Dr. King,” Steven Whitlow said. “One of the things we talk about in our house is, ‘[Don’t] forget those who went before us.’… When you think about someone who went before us, who really and truly made a difference for us and our community, it’s Dr. King.”
Tammy Whitlow, a teaching specialist at Cal Lutheran University, agreed.
“We want to make sure that we never forget as we continue to try to go out into our communities and make a difference where we are,” she said.
Reflecting on the memory on contributions of the civil rights icon “empowers me to do and pursue excellence and touch other people that I may come into contact with in my community, on my job, wherever I go,” she added.
Lavelle Bruton spoke of King with glowing admiration. “He means everything,” Bruton said. When asked what is the best way to continue to honor and celebrate the legacy of King, Bruton replied simply: “The way that I am doing now.”
Crenshaw High School teacher Rae Belise said King’s contributions to U.S. society are virtually immeasurable.
“You have to remember that it was just 50 years ago when he fought for just basic human rights,” Belise said. “Back in the day… we worked for free: It was called slavery.”
City News Service contributed to this report.