'Happy King Day!' L.A. turns out for parade to honor civil rights leader

Carolyn Walter and her granddaughter flew to Los Angeles to see a proper Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration.

In Phoenix, where Walter lives , celebrations of the civil rights leader's legacy are smaller. And her 12-year-old granddaughter, Lashanti Williams, wanted to see the annual Kingdom Day Parade her grandmother remembered from her years in Los Angeles.

“I like black history, and I wanted to come to a Martin Luther King parade,” Lashanti said. “And I don't care for the ones in Arizona.”

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Organizers said the South Los Angeles parade, now in its 31st year, drew an estimated 250,000 people Monday. Spectators lined sidewalks along the two-mile route, shouting: “Happy King Day!” at local dignitaries.

Those included parade organizer Adrian Dove, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Councilman Curren Price — who served as grand marshal — along with a host of marching bands, dancers and horseback riders. There was even a replica of the bus Rosa Parks was riding in when she refused to give up her seat in Montgomery, Ala., in 1955.

The musicians are the major draw for Pat Payne, a 71-year-old Los Angeles Unified middle school band teacher who has watched the parade from her front lawn on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard every January since it started.

Usually she has students among the young participants, and this year was no exception.

“My kids are coming!” she shouted as the students approached; Payne ran into the street to cheer them on and shoot a video with her cellphone.

But she is more than a spectator. For the last 19 years, Payne has cooked and served barbecue in her backyard for the police and firefighters who work the parade.

On Monday, she was running on three hours’ sleep over the entire weekend as she — along with friends, neighbors and relatives — served ribs, green beans, baked beans and macaroni and cheese to officers after their security shift.

Payne has a soft spot for law enforcement because her two sons work for the Los Angeles Police Department.

“I think someone needs to let them know we appreciate them, and if no one else will do it, I'll say it,” she said. “Martin Luther King was about serving everyone, taking care of everyone, and this is my way of taking care of the people we depend on the most.”

Payne's sons — off-duty for the day — joined the festivities.

Kevin Payne said the gatherings his mother hosts are especially important now.

 

“We need as many situations where the community interacts in a positive manner with the police department as possible,” he said.

But other parade spectators linked King's legacy to the current debate over police use of force — including controversial shootings and in-custody deaths of black men and women.

Jeff Hughey, 50, of Baldwin Hills watched the parade sporting a Black Lives Matter shirt with the slogan “End Police Brutality.”

King “was also brutalized by police,” Hughey said. “Definitely on today, Martin Luther King's holiday, we have to know that black lives matter.”

Down the street, Barbara Woods — sitting on a lawn chair next to her 17-year-old granddaughter, who is black, and the teen’s boyfriend, who is white — teared up as she remembered the day in 1968 when she learned that King had been killed.

“I wish he was still alive, oh, honestly I do,” the 66-year-old woman said. “He's missed so much.”

Since Kings' time, she said, “a lot of things have changed and then a lot of things have not changed.... I'm hoping things don't take a step back. I'm hoping things will continue to step forward.”

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

4:25 p.m.: This post was updated with comments from Pat Payne's son and from a parade spectator.

 

6:53 p.m.: This post was updated with additional information.

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