EATONVILLE – The voice was strong, clear and unmistakable. As hundreds of people stood along Kennedy Boulevard, lining up side by side on the lengthy street, they heard over a loudspeaker the very familiar voice of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., speaking directly to them.
“So often, American has trampled over the dream,” said the hero of the civil rights movement who did not survive an assassination attempt in 1968, but whose dream has not only lived on 44 years later, but whose life and legacy will be celebrated on Monday during the Martin Luther King holiday.
For the town of Eatonville, the celebrations began a few days earlier, with the 34th annual Martin Luther King Parade and Celebration, which included a Festival in the Park, a basketball tournament, and, of course, the parade itself.
The parade route went along Kennedy Boulevard, originally old Apopka Road, the roadway known as Eatonville’s Main Street. Along the way, the participants in the parade passed by the shops, churches and agencies that make up this historic community’s downtown, a sign that this community remains a vibrant and healthy one, with storefronts as diverse as the Eatonville Community Redevelopment Agency, the Boswell & Son Tavern and Barber Shop, the Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church, and New Image Hair Designs salon.
Those participating in the parade were a unique mix, from local officeholders to regional political leaders, to church groups and youth bands and local radio stations.
A lot of the participants brought along bags full of candy, which they happily tossed to the children lined along Kennedy Boulevard on a cool but clear day.
“Okay, I got the treats,” said Eatonville City Councilman Alvin Moore, as he tossed handfuls of wrapped candy to the bystanders.
So did Councilman Rodney Daniels, who could see the young faces lighting up with excitement, and anticipation, as he reached into his bag of sweets.
“Here we go, here we go, hold on,” he laughed, as he tossed a bunch of the candies into the crowd.
It prompted one young boy, who reached down and picked up some of the candies, to ask out loud, to no one in particular, “What is this parade about, anyway?”
Several others asked the same question as the parade continued through the oldest incorporated African American municipality in the nation. Eatonville Vice Mayor Edward Cole, looking out at the crowd as his car reached the end of the parade route, asked out loud, “So what happened to Martin Luther King?”
It was the Solomon Lodge #53 of Apopka that brought along a recording of one of Dr. King’s historic speeches to play to the crowd, and their car was followed closely by the Young Blacks in Action, a community band and group of dancettes, who performed for the spectators and, at the same time, symbolically pointed toward the future – the young people who would one day be running the community of Eatonville.
There were also reminders that in the once segregated-South — which included Florida, a state that once made it virtually impossible for African Americans to run for and win public office — so much had changed since the 1960s. Among the African American political leaders who showed for up the parade were Orlando City Commissioners Daisy Lynum and Samuel B. Ings, and state Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, who is vacating his state Senate seat this year because of term limits.
“Hey, what’s happening?” Siplin asked as he greeted the crowd. Behind him was his wife, Victoria Siplin, who is expected to be a candidate this year for Siplin’s Senate district, and several of her supporters. Senator Siplin has been mentioned as a possible candidate for Congress this year, in the state’s 8th Congressional District.
As Orange County School Board member Kat Gordon passed by, the banner on her vehicle read “We are Dr. ML King’s Dream.”
The parade brought out white as well as black faces. Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs was on a float sponsored by the Orange County government, and she waved to the crowd and yelled out “How are you? Great to see you!” as she passed by.
Activists from the OccupyOrlando protest movement took part in the parade, along with members of the Florida Civil Rights Association, who loudly chanted “The people united will never be defeated,” and the Orange County Democratic Committee, whose members chanted “When I say vote, you say who? Obama!”
Eatonville’s celebrations of the life of Martin Luther King continue on Sunday with a tribute to the civil rights leader at Hungerford Prep gymnasium, 100 E. Kennedy Boulevard, from 4-6 p.m. That event will include a live stage performance by Kelvin Wade Productions of “The Meeting,” a play based on a conversation between Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.
Then on Monday, the holiday, there will be a candlelight vigil at the Catalina Park entrance of Kennedy Boulevard, starting at 6 p.m.
Contact us at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.