Local residents lined both sides of Main Street on Monday morning — from the historic courthouse down to the Hendry Street intersection — to watch this year’s parade honoring the birthday, life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Though he was born Jan. 15, 1929, King’s birthday now is celebrated on the third Monday in January as MLK Jr. Day, when Americans recall his life as the leader of the civil-rights movement that started in the 1950s. It first was observed as a federal holiday three years after it was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1983. This year marks the 15th year MLK Jr. Day has been observed in all 50 states.
“Today is important because it makes me think about how far we’ve come,” said local resident Paulette Johnson as she waited near the Liberty County Justice Center with Iris Lopez for the parade to begin. “We still have a struggle now, but we will get through it. We are getting through it.”
Johnson said she knew about the civil-rights movement in other parts of the country but said she grew up in Miami, Florida, where she was unaffected by the movement. Lopez, who was born in the 1980s, said she hasn’t experienced the segregation and discrimination that was common 50 years ago.
Jeren Sharpe sat on the curb near the RTS Homes’ office with her three boys, who excitedly pointed out the first elements of the parade rounding the corner and marching onto Main Street.
“This is Titus Sharpe,” Sharpe said, pointed to her toddler, who was working on a lollipop as he sat patiently in his stroller. “He’s 1. This is Isaiah. He’s 3. And this is Zion. He’s 6. This is our first year coming out for the (MLK parade). We just moved to this area.”
A Hinesville Police Department cruiser led this year’s procession, followed by an HPD color guard. Behind them was another color guard led by Col. Thomas Gukeisen, commander of the 3rdInfantry Division’s 4thInfantry Brigade Combat Team. A platoon-size element of 4thIBCT soldiers marched in step behind the color guard, singing cadence songs.
The next series of parade participants were in new sedans that stopped at the bleachers outside the courthouse to allow their VIP occupants to step out. Among them were Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas, Mayor Pro Tem Charles Frasier, Hinesville city council members and Liberty County Board of Commissioners Chairman Donald Lovette.
Also taking part in the parade were Walthourville Mayor Daisy Pray and Riceboro Mayor William Austin. Scores of churches and church-affiliated ministries were represented, as well as local businesses and civic organizations like Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts, the Eleven Black Men of Liberty County and the Liberty County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Both Bradwell Institute and Liberty County High School had students in the parade with their marching bands and step teams as well as the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps. At least two unnamed motorcycle clubs rode their bikes slowly along the route, and dozens of new cars, trucks and SUVs eased up the street behind hundreds of marchers and a few floats.
More than 1½ hours after it started, the parade came to a loud conclusion with the simultaneous blaring of sirens and horns from at least three fire trucks and even more motorcycles.
“I came to downtown Hinesville for the Martin Luther King celebration,” area resident Gabelyn Stevens said. “(We’re) celebrating his legacy for freedom. It’s really a big event. I always enjoy it.”
The winning float in this year’s parade belonged to Bethel AME Church. Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church’s float took second. The Cosmopolitan Club took third.
Following the parade, a commemorative service was held at Bradwell Institute’s gymnasium. The Rev. Paul Shepherd of Thankful Missionary Baptist Church in Savannah was guest speaker.