"I was supposed to work today--regularly scheduled overtime--but I ain't going in for no amount of money," said David Butler, a tall, 38-year-old black man with a handmade "The Dream Lives" sign resting on his shoulder. "I'm going to be here for my brother and for all people.
"I wanted to be at marches in Selma and Montgomery, but I couldn't. But today I share the same feeling that was there then," Butler said.
That feeling--a celebration of hard-won civil rights and a resolve to pass along the commitment to future generations--flowed down more than three miles of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard on Monday as about 100 black community organizations threw Los Angeles' first Kingdom Day Parade, a joyful observance of the new federal holiday honoring King's birthday.
The parade, a sprawling mixture of spiritual, commercial and civic entries, meandered for four hours past 8,000 to 10,000 bystanders, virtually all of them black.
Starting near the Memorial Coliseum, it passed the crumbling storefronts and Victorian homes of Southwest Los Angeles, the neatly trimmed lawns of the Crenshaw District and ended in the suburban comfort of Baldwin Hills with a rally in a stadium named after Jackie Robinson.
The day's most common greeting--"Happy Birthday"--was shouted enthusiastically by parade participants, who rode in cars and buses and motorcycles and replicas of churches and ships or marched as drill teams or bands or tambourine-banging members of congregations. King buttons, T-shirts, posters and poems were hawked up and down the street.
The slain civil rights leader's birthday has been celebrated for years--Los Angeles used the day three years ago to formally rename Santa Barbara Avenue after King--but several who marched or watched on Monday said the coming of the national holiday brought a special elation.
"I think every minority has been waiting hundreds of years for something like this," said Louis Lairy, 38, who stood next to Butler on the parade route with an American flag.
"It's meant more conversation, more talk, more concentration" about King and his principles, said Cooper Partner, who brought his wife and four children to see the parade from their home in West Covina.
Message for the Young
"Without the holiday, I guess our younger generations of blacks would never have known--it just would have faded away. Because of the holiday, they'll know that somebody fought for them," Partner said.
"This is a kind of culmination of a lot of activities that were needed to bring about the holiday," said the Rev. Lonnie Dawson, pastor of the New Mount Calvary Baptist Church. "This is like the birth."
Dawson spent the day in the parade's most symbolic float, a recreation of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where King first preached.
Inside the framed church, members of Dawson's congregation wore large banners with the names of civil-rights movement figures such as Rosa Parks, the woman whose refusal to give up her bus seat to a white person in Montgomery, Ala., in 1955 sparked the first nonviolent protest movement King led, and Viola Liuzzo, a civil rights worker murdered in 1965 by two Ku Klux Klansmen after King's famed Selma-to-Montgomery march.
In front of the truck-pulled church marched men portraying leaders Roy Wilkins, Ralph David Abernathy, Dick Gregory, Andrew Young and Jesse Jackson. Behind, scores of other church members paraded with signs: "Free at Last," "I Have a Dream," "M. L. King Was a Drum Major for Justice."
Inside, over a loudspeaker, accompanied by recorded music, Dawson sang lyrics from "We Shall Overcome" or quoted King's speeches ("Let everybody say 'We're free at last!' ") to audiences that sang or chanted back to him.
The parade was the most elaborate of numerous Southern California observances of King's birthday that have been held during the past week. Another King parade in Inglewood drew a crowd of about 7,000 Monday, while in San Francisco about 60,000 sang, carried signs and marched through that city's downtown.
The Los Angeles parade's entrants ran the gamut from entertainers, beauty queens and politicians (Supervisor Kenneth Hahn and state Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp) to sedans advertising a cleaning store and a janitorial supply business.
A political aide to Mayor Tom Bradley said she presumed Bradley had been asked to participate but said he has not been able to fulfill all the myriad King-related requests he has received in the past week.
Time for Remembering
"We hope this will blossom into a national day, particularly for blacks, like the 4th of July," said pastor Dawson. "A celebration of the man, the principles, the race. We hope to use this to inspire race pride and to manifest black dignity. There is a lot of dignity in blacks that is not focused on . . . another side, that we call magnificence."
A few blocks away, Lairy and Butler were remembering.
"He paved the way not just for the black man, but for all minorities, across all color lines," Lairy said.
"He stood for the principles that a lot of people are ashamed to let out today," Butler said. "That when you see somebody homeless or hungry, you feel compassion."
"A person who went through the valley of evil and wasn't afraid," Lairy said.
Butler turned to Lairy. "Love's gonna be here when there's nothing else left," he smiled, and on that the two friends shook hands.