40 years after king | ANNUAL PARADE

The Dream Goes on the March

Across the nation, presidential candidates, elected officials, and regular citizens join to remember the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 1968 murder in Memphis, Tenn. -- and to consider the civil rights leader's legacy.
By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 6, 2008

The scene yesterday looked like a typical parade: glad-handing politicians, waving beauty queens and pompom-carrying cheerleaders.

But one cheerleading group was from Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School. And, along the parade route, at Campbell African Methodist Episcopal Church, a chalkboard read, "Dr. King Lives On In Ward 8."

Revelry mixed with reflection yesterday as hundreds of people lined Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Southeast Washington for the 29th annual parade to remember the street's namesake.

Forty years ago, King's assassination sparked riots that resulted in 13 deaths and the destruction of some of the city's corridors. The unrest also touched Nichols Avenue, which was renamed in honor of the civil rights leader in 1971.

"Martin Luther King. He represents our school," said 8-year-old Kimbra Price, dressed in her red and white cheerleading uniform.

The parade got off to a slow start, and for a while it looked as if it might even be a bust. Small clusters of people sat on milk crates, in lawn chairs and on the curb awaiting a procession that would seemingly never start proceeding. But then the thump of marching bands was heard in the distance, and people emerged from their homes on side streets and filled the sidewalks.

"On the 40th anniversary of his death, I don't think there could be a better crowd," Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) said as he threw out green Mardi Gras-style beads.

The mayor stopped to pose with people who wanted the memory saved on their cellphones and cameras. "People are having a great time celebrating everything Martin Luther King meant to this country," Fenty said.

Erica "Diamond" Smith, 30, wearing a superhero costume, said she was "Wonder Woman" as she skated down the street with the Anacostia Rollers and Friends.

She said she generally wears the costume in parades but thought it took on special meaning yesterday with its stars and stripes. "This is a show for freedom, everything that he was about," she said as the Sounds of Blackness ensemble blared from speakers, "You can win as long as you keep your head to the sky. Be optimistic." But with celebration came a reality that King's dream and the American dream have not touched everyone.

As D.C. Council candidate Michael A. Brown shook hands with a group of young men, several asked how they could get jobs. Brown, son of the late Ronald Brown, former U.S. secretary of commerce, told them to call the number on his campaign flier and they could possibly get paid for working on his campaign.

"I'm looking out here on the street at all these young men. I bet three out of the five are unemployed," said former Ward 1 Council member Frank Smith. "We, as the black community, or America as a whole, need to do something."

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