A ‘Street Full of Love’ : Black History Parade in Santa Ana Draws Diverse Crowd


The homeless man known as “Papa,” pushing a cart heaped with his belongings, was moved to tears as the 1994 Black History Parade passed by on Broadway on Saturday.

Impressed by the diversity of ethnic groups--Asians, Latinos, whites and African Americans--who turned outto march and line the street despite the cloudy morning, Papa watched silently as the parade swept by.

“I love my people, and I am glad to see the parade was not just one color, but all colors unified,” said Papa, who is black. “It makes me cry, because the street is full of love.”


Saturday’s Black History Parade succeeded, its organizers said, in being a multiethnic celebration and an affirmation of African American culture to inspire the young. In all, 120 service clubs, drill teams, bands, equestrian units and other groups participated, some coming from as far as Los Angeles and San Diego.

A parade organizer said about 3,500 people attended the event. Police had no crowd estimate.

The parade and the cultural festival that followed became something of a giant reunion for Orange County’s small black community, which once was concentrated in Santa Ana but over two decades has scattered widely into predominantly white neighborhoods.

The parade had failed to come off during the past two years because officials lacked money and organization. Saturday’s participants said they had sorely missed the occasion.

Joshua Ross, 56, of Santa Ana brought his 2-year-old son, also named Joshua, to the boy’s first parade. “It will give him some insight about his blackness, what he is all about,” said Ross, a Pentecostal minister. “It is something to see that can make a positive imprint in his mind.”

Ross said he regretted trying to raise his four children in a county where they usually have little opportunity to meet others who are black or to learn about African American culture. “If I had a choice, I would be where there are more of us,” he said.


Several black students from Tustin High School, who had volunteered to carry parade banners, said they welcomed the attention that Black History Month brings to the contributions of their people. But they said they wished the sentiment would continue through the remainder of the year.

“It is time black people got recognized,” said Deniesha King, one of the students.

But many in the crowd of hundreds who had gathered to enjoy the music and marching were not black. Guadalupe Reyes, a Mexican immigrant, walked with her two sons to the parade from their Santa Ana home.

“I like parades,” Reyes said. She added that she also wanted her sons “to see black and Hispanic people together, so they will get along with people better.”

“We all want to get along,” said Gerald Reed, who was directing the all-black St. Stephen’s Gospel Drill Team from San Diego, which followed on the heels of the Ballet Folklorico, a Mexican dance group in colorful swirling skirts.

Reed said the youths were marching “against drugs, gangs and children having children, and for Jesus.” At a signal from Reed, the group shouted in chorus, “You don’t need cocaine. Just call on Jesus’ name.”

Ocie Edwards, 57, of Pasadena was accompanied by her two granddaughters, who were part of the Pasadena Cowgirls drum squad and drill team. Their gold and red dresses sparkled in the occasional ray of sunlight that broke through the clouds.


One of the granddaughters, Jiai Triplett, 14, said she liked “watching people get excited as we go down the street.”

Edwards said race relations have improved since she was a girl growing up in Texas and Nevada. Then, she said, parades were “lily white” and “the only blacks you would see were standing on the sidelines.”

But Edwards said she wishes that the spirit of ethnic cooperation evident in Saturday’s parade “would leave the parade and spread in the community.”

The cultural fair at Santa Ana Stadium after the parade featured jazz, rap and gospel music, as well as booths featuring African American fashions, literature and art. Crowds lined up for hot dogs and soul food.

“There is a need for banding together,” said Ernesta Wright, 36, of Santa Ana, who was one of the coordinators of the parade and fair. “I’m most excited it actually happened,” she added, referring to the event’s previous organizational problems.

“It is fantastic,” said Mike Smith, 37, who was at the festival with his cousin, Jerry Smith, 36, both of whom were raised in Chicago but now live in Orange.


“We don’t miss the weather, but we miss our families and our roots,” Mike Smith said. The cousins relished plates of barbecued chicken and a combination of red beans and rice that they said is known as “dirty rice” in Chicago.

“There is the feeling here that you’re at home,” said Jerry Smith as he glanced around the festival grounds.

Jerry Dixon, 54, an Orange County park ranger who lives in Santa Ana, said: “I’ve met people today I haven’t seen in 15 years. It takes something like this to bring us all together. I think (the parade) is here to stay now.”

Nearby, Queen James, 68, and her two grandchildren perused a display of books about African American history. “You don’t ordinarily see these in bookstores,” said James, who had selected a book about “Miss Jane Pittman” while her 7-year-old grandson clutched a paperback about Jackie Robinson.

James said she drove from her nearly all-white neighborhood in Placentia to pick up her grandchildren from a nearly all-white neighborhood in Riverside and take them to the black cultural celebration.

“I came because I wanted my grandchildren to learn something about black history,” she said.