MLK festivities in St. Petersburg honor slain civil rights leader

ST. PETERSBURG — The state's largest Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade snaked through downtown Monday in a flurry of crashing cymbals, booming tubas and sequin-clad dancers.

Snippets of King's "I Have a Dream" speech blared from a speaker: "Free at last! Free at last!"

The event, which boasted 93 entries, was the largest among many celebrations and tributes hosted throughout the Tampa Bay area Monday to honor the slain minister who helped lead the nation's largest civil rights movement.

During the annual King breakfast at the St. Petersburg Coliseum, Mayor Bill Foster called on community leaders and residents to make lifelong — or at least start with yearlong — commitments to tutor and mentor the city's youths.

But the parade was the day's highlight, its sights and smells taking over downtown. It lasted more than three hours.

Politicians, beauty queens and church leaders waved from glittering floats.

Vendors hawked soul food on street corners, leaving the air heavy with the smell of roast meat, fried side dishes and seasoned collard greens.

Dancers in a rainbow of sparkling bodysuits strutted down Central Avenue, their white knee-high boots kicking toward the sky to the rhythm of student marching bands from six states.

Children played with bubble machines behind metal barriers and called out for beads from passing floats.

Raymond, the Tampa Bay Rays' mascot, danced atop an all-terrain vehicle as a nearby team float blasted hip-hop music.

The Miami Central High School Marching Rockets swayed as they performed the music to Luther Vandross' Never too Much.

Kim Colston and her husband, Dwight, of Tampa, waved from the sidewalk at the passing dignitaries, including actor and minister Clifton Davis, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who stood upright in a red, open-topped Jeep Wrangler.

The Colstons wore matching black T-shirts depicting King and President Barack Obama, both winners of the Nobel Peace Prize, that she picked up at the Tampa Bay Black Heritage Festival.

She said this year's holiday was special because her 5-year-old son, James, was beginning to pay attention to the impact of King's service.

"This is when he's going to really start remembering the meaning," she said.

MLK festivities in St. Petersburg honor slain civil rights leader 01/18/10 [Last modified: Monday, January 18, 2010 11:15pm]

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