Hundreds of marchers converged in the heart of Anacostia on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, singing and clapping in a peace walk along the civil rights leader’s namesake boulevard that spilled into a parade in his honor.

Since the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in Staten Island, many marchers said this year’s annual King parade and peace walk took on special meaning. The march and parade felt like a tribute to King, as well as a protest of the deaths of African Americans at the hands of police. Marchers carried signs that said “Stop Racist Police Terror” and “Stop the War on Black America” while SUVs inched along the road with speakers that blasted King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Peace walkers began gathering as early as 8 a.m. in a church parking lot across the street from the Thurgood Marshall Academy. Ron Thompson, a program director at Radio One, exhorted the crowd through a microphone to carry on King’s directives:“Today, no one has to die in Southeast D.C.!”

As a brass band fired up, the marchers began their walk along King Avenue. Wendell Love, 22, a nursing student at the University of the District of Columbia, said he came to the walk because of “all the things that have happened [in the news] and the upcoming City Council election.”

Love said he had read books on King and plans on seeing the movie “Selma,” about the 1965 Alabama demonstration against the denial of basic voting rights to Southern blacks. “Today, we want to feel this one unity,” Love said.

One of the peace walkers Monday was Rhozier “Roach” Brown, 70, an ex-convict whose life sentence for murder was commuted by President Gerald Ford and who later became a salaried political aide to Marion Barry when he was D.C. mayor. As Brown walked up the street, he said that when he was in prison, he railed against King, preferring other icons such as Malcolm X. “I thought [King] was a coward. But when he died, I realized he meant a lot. He risked his life for us, and I hadn’t realized that.”

As Brown spoke, the son of his late longtime friend appeared.

Marion Christopher Barry is one of several candidates seeking the Ward 8 council seat left vacant after his father’s death in November. A special election is set for April 28.

The younger Barry made news last week after police said he threatened a teller and destroyed a surveillance camera at a Chinatown bank branch. A spokeswoman for Barry declined a request from The Washington Post for an interview.

Other candidates for the Ward 8 seat leveraged some of King’s language during the walk. “We shall overcome with Trayon White! We shall overcome in Ward 8 by voting for Trayon White,” yelled one of White’s campaign staff members.

As the group reached the intersection of King Avenue and Milwaukee Place SE, it mixed in with a jubilant parade in King’s honor. Parents lined the street with children. People snapped photos of a high school marching band doing a routine and of D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier driving a car, surrounded by at least a dozen officers walking alongside her vehicle.

Elsewhere in Washington to mark the federal holiday, President Obama and his family visited the George Ferris Jr. Clubhouse 6 in Northwest Washington, where the president reportedly helped assemble literacy kits and paint a mural. At the Richard England Clubhouse 14 in Southeast, scores of T-Mobile staff members helped the Boys & Girls Clubs of Washington furnish and rehabilitate aging teen and pre-teen rooms with new paint, furniture, a television set and video games.