MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) – MLK Day 2023 brought the return of a long-standing tradition, the MLK Day parade in Downtown Memphis.
There was a pause to the parade the last few years because of COVID-19, but the history dates back to 1972.
The elements didn’t provide a warm welcome to parade goers early Monday morning with rain, wind and cold temps.
That being said it was a smaller – but decent-sized – crowd marching a little over two miles through Downtown, all joining in one voice to honor Dr. King’s legacy and continue to fight for equality.
“We’ve been rained on. We’ve been snowed on, but we’ve always braved the elements and continue to do what we’re supposed to do,” said James Jones, President of Teamsters Union Local 667.
Jones’ chapter started sponsoring the event 5 years ago, but the cause they support through the parade, he says, embodies what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. supported 54 years ago.
“(MLK) came in for the ‘68 strikers, trying to have a better life for themselves, and we’re continuing that on a day-to-day basis, making sure that these companies respect these workers, pay livable wages, and provide safe environments,” Jones said.
“Everyone wants justice; everyone wants to make sure that we are represented in this community,” said Anthony Branch, President of the Memphis branch of Alpha Phi Alpha.
Other groups like the Men of Alpha Phi Alpha chapter in Memphis walked alongside union members.
Despite the progress accomplished during Dr. King’s time, Branch says racial injustice is still present in the Bluff City.
“We definitely want to overcome that, even economically disadvantaged individuals, trying to fight for justice for them and make sure that we make this place a better place,” he said.
The roughly 2-mile march through Downtown Memphis ended at Army Park, a stone’s throw away from the National Civil Rights Museum.
Though cities across the country celebrate Dr. King’s legacy, his everlasting connection to Memphis makes these events all the more powerful, making attendees like these two leaders feel obligated to keep his legacy alive and well.
“(MLK) was here to march with individuals that he knew there was a cause and a need for in the city of Memphis,” Branch said. “He felt that he was one that could represent that. And so, it means a lot, and it means a lot to our city. It means a lot to African Americans across the country, knowing that we had a pioneer that would push forward justice in this country.”
Branch later made things a little personal to him, saying he was born in ‘68, the year Dr. King was assassinated.
He said he was born into a world that was being made better, thanks largely in part to Dr. King.
He feels it’s his job as a leader here in Memphis to continue to make that world better for his children and his children’s children.
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