“It means a lot to me,” said Deion Glenn, a drum major and senior at Martin Luther King Jr. High School. “Years down the line I’ll be able to say I was one of the first to march on this new route.”
Participants enjoyed sunny blue skies and mild January temperatures as they filed out of Ray of Hope Christian Church’s parking lot to start the parade. Bands from MLK, Stone Mountain, Cedar Grove and McNair high schools played rousing music and catchy rhythms that quickly attracted pockets of spectators from neighborhoods along the parade route.
Dr. George Mosteller, president of the Georgia SCLC, and Lester Ruffin (HeadKrack) of TV One and Hot 107.9-FM served as grand marshals.
“It is exciting, really,” said Sheena Paige as she waited for the procession to pass. “I drove by and saw the bands getting ready and when they told me it was the MLK parade, I rushed home and said ‘You guys wanna see the parade?’ And everybody came out.”
Residents were thrilled to have such a significant King Day event close to home.
“It is easier this year," said spectator Robin Goolsby, who lives in the Browns Mill neighborhood. “Seems like the route is a lot longer and there’s more space for people to get around and see the parade.”
Churches, community and civic groups, cheerleaders and dance troupes filled the gaps between bands.
The parade marched about three miles along the parkway to a King Day rally at MLK High. Many of them carried signs reading “Happy Birthday,” “Honor the Dream” and other sentiments reflecting Dr. King’s legacy.
The rally in the school’s Coretta Scott Auditorium featured speakers, the MLK High Chorus and interpretive dance. School officials say a large number of students took part in the day’s events.
“To host the rally and play a vital part in the parade was exciting for us.” said interim principal Vivian Terry. “Here at MLK, we have a saying that ‘I am King.’ We try to exemplify what Dr. King stood for.”
King was born in Atlanta on Jan. 15, 1929. He was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tenn., where he was supporting a strike by sanitation workers seeking better wages and working conditions.
DeKalb NAACP members honored King’s memory with the parade in downtown Stone Mountain Village for 10 years before voting in November to switch to the parkway in Lithonia.
The Georgia General Assembly in 2012 designated the 5.1-mile stretch of Snapfinger Road between Wesley Chapel Road and the Henry County line in honor of the slain civil rights icon and Nobel Peace Prize laureate. State Sen. Ronald Ramsey sponsored the resolution.
The designation of King Parkway is only ceremonial. Snapfinger Road, also known as State Route 155, retains its name. But NAACP leaders this year will launch a major effort to make the name change official.
“It’s a state highway. We have to deal with the state,” said DeKalb NAACP president John Evans.“There are about 200 parcels of property [along Snapfinger] so we’re going to have a walking group.”
The “walking group” will canvass residents and attempt to get their signatures on a petition to officially rename the road. The NAACP would need 51 percent of property owners to agree to the change. Not one to be deterred by resistance to a name change, Evans recalled King’s persistence against the odds.
“We’re gonna work on that,” he said.