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King parade was celebration of dreams come true

ST. PETERSBURG — The parade for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday marched through town Monday, as it has every year for the past quarter-century or so.

A carnival queen twirled with an 8-foot spiral of blue silk hanging off her back. A step team dodged sea gulls on Bayshore Boulevard. A youth football team proudly walked by, clutching a championship trophy.

But this year, coming just a day before the inauguration of Barack Obama, the parade became a mirror of the times.

In it, the thousands of paradegoers, many of them black, saw not only majorettes in glittery costumes and convertible-riding politicians. They saw a way to measure progress.

"It's like going from the past to the future and seeing how far we've come," said Breeanna Harman, 19, a college student in purple and pink Nike high tops.

Those who watched the parade seemed to take different meanings away from it.

"This means so much to me," said Hilliard Marchell, 74, who sat in a motorized scooter hooked up to oxygen. "It's a day I never thought I'd get to see. I just thank God I'm able to see this day."

Down the block, Ryananea Johnson, an 18-year-old sporting pink and purple streaks in her hair, explained, "It's just for fun. We're having a good time."

The parade was a bit smaller this year, likely a combination of the economy and the fact that buses filled with St. Petersburg residents departed for the inauguration festivities in Washington, D.C., the day before.

But it brought out those who wanted to celebrate Obama as much as King.

"What brought us here was the combination of the greatness of Martin Luther King Jr. and that Obama is being elected tomorrow," said Dennis Wynn, 61, a retired job recruiter who is white.

One woman sold framed pictures with photos of King and Obama with the words "A King and a President" beneath them. Others sold Obama posters and buttons. A white man who called himself a Woody Guthrie fan walked around with a single speaker hanging from his neck, bellowing King's "I have a dream" speech.

Sidney Crumb, 62, a retired social worker, held his adopted 6-year-old, Sophonie, and tried to explain the significance to her. He grew up in a black neighborhood near downtown St. Petersburg, went to an all-black high school and met his first white person when he was a teen.

"This is a historical event," he said, "more than these young people have any idea."

Times staff writer Curtis Krueger contributed to this report. Leonora LaPeter Anton can be reached at lapeter@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8640.

King parade was celebration of dreams come true 01/19/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 20, 2009 11:02pm]

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