Soaked Commemoration

It Rained on Their Parade, Again

Hart Middle School's marching band braved the rain with many others during the Martin Luther King Jr. parade, which was moved from January to April.
Hart Middle School's marching band braved the rain with many others during the Martin Luther King Jr. parade, which was moved from January to April. (By Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)
By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 9, 2006

They moved the annual Martin Luther King Jr. parade from January to April so the weather would be nicer.

But yesterday, youngsters in the marching bands and onlookers huddled in soggy ponchos had this to say to organizers: You made a mistake.

"They should have had it on the original day, his birthday," said Gloria Dixon, 39, a resident of Southeast Washington who said she came out only to watch her 10-year-old niece march in the Malcolm X Elementary School band. On Jan. 16, when Martin Luther King Day was observed, "the weather was not as cold as they thought it was going to be. Now we got all this cold and rain."

At the kickoff of yesterday's parade, the temperature was 44 degrees, just 1 degree warmer than it was Jan. 16. It was dry Jan. 16, as well.

Destiny Long, 10, a member of the James A. Garfield Elementary School band, was shivering in her yellow T-shirt, green skirt and bare legs as she waited with her group at the starting point at Ballou Senior High School. "We should have stayed home -- it's cold!" said one of her cohorts.

Some of the students were clad in clear plastic ponchos. Ellen Clark, a band director, tried to buy some for her school, Fletcher-Johnson Education Center, but the local store was sold out.

Last year, the parade to honor the birthday of the slain civil rights leader was canceled because of frigid weather. D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) and other organizers proposed moving this year's parade to a date in April. Organizers had first proposed April Fools' Day but quickly switched the date to yesterday over concerns that some might view the choice as disrespectful to King's memory.

When asked whether he should have kept to the traditional parade date, Barry, riding in a gray BMW convertible with the top down, replied: "Better rain than snow."

Should he consider moving the parade back to its traditional day in January? "Well, we'll see," he said.

The parade, first held in Southeast in 1979, is usually hosted by the Ward 8 council member. The event typically draws large crowds, residents said.

But yesterday's turnout was sparse. The weather, of course, was largely to blame.

But changing the date from a Monday holiday to a Saturday was ill-advised "because people are out doing tasks and chores," said Jeff Canady, a teacher who used to do parade planning when he worked for council member Wilhelmina Rolark. Rolark, who died this year, was to be the parade's grand marshal. Denise Rolark Barnes, her stepdaughter, took her place.

Still, those who turned out cheered and tapped their feet as the bands strutted by. The popular Ballou marching band, which came last, got a particularly rousing ovation.

Mattie Thurston, 61, whose son, Darrell Watson, is the band director, had been in the rain to watch Ballou march in the Parade of the National Cherry Blossom Festival earlier in the day.

She barely had time to go home, put her jacket in the dryer and get into position under her umbrella for her second parade of the day in the rain.

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