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Spectators line Tampa streets for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade


Ruth McNair remembers sitting in the back of the bus before the civil rights movement. She remembers being asked to use the back door to enter a doctor's office.

She also remembers the day Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated: April 4, 1968.

"It was a shock to hear that he had been assassinated on that day," McNair said. "I never will forget that day."

On Monday, McNair, 81, was among dozens who participated in the 25th annual Martin Luther King Jr. parade.

"I've seen a lot of change," she said.

This year's holiday celebrating King's birthday coincided with President Barack Obama's inauguration. McNair said King opened the doors for equality and helped pave a path for Obama's achievements.

"I feel good to be able to see the first black president," McNair said. She was walking in the parade in honor of her daughter, Deborah, who died about a year ago.

Around the region, from St. Petersburg to New Port Richey, residents celebrated the day with parades, breakfasts and speeches at public parks.

At a breakfast organized by the St. Petersburg Metropolitan Section of the National Council of Negro Women, a crowd clasped hands and sang James Weldon Johnson's Lift Every Voice and Sing — and cheered when a video highlighting images from the civil rights movement then showed photographs of Obama and his family.

By noon, hundreds of spectators gathered along Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in East Tampa.

People lined the streets with folding chairs and boxes. Some sat along the curb. Children grabbed the rails lining the parade route in anticipation. People sought shade under trees and umbrellas.

Excitement about Obama's inauguration was palpable. A woman wore large earrings imprinted with Obama's face. Many spectators wore T-shirts bearing the president's name.

Among them was Gary Story of Tampa, who wore a red T-shirt picturing Obama and first lady Michelle.

"It means a lot," Story said of King's parade. "It's celebrating what one man did for us."

Raymond Howard, 50, brought his 2-year-old granddaughter, Riley, to the parade. For Howard, coming to the parade is a tradition.

"I think people understand the significance of it," Howard said. "They understand what Martin Luther King stood for."

Floats dotted the route, including one from the city of Tampa's Department of Solid Waste adorned with photos of King and Obama. Several school marching bands participated as well, including groups from Sligh Middle and Middleton High.

A man passed out fliers with the text of King's iconic "I Have A Dream" speech. A little boy held up a sign that read, "Keep the dream alive."

Don Johnson of Seminole rode on the Buffalo Soldiers float during the parade. The organization has been a part of the event for about eight years, he said.

The Buffalo Soldiers were a group of black soldiers who fought in several wars, including the Spanish-American War.

Although Johnson missed the inauguration, he was recording it at home.

"I thank God for allowing me to live in this time," Johnson said. "To be able to be a part of the struggles, and then see those struggles come to fruition."

Spectators line Tampa streets for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade 01/21/13 [Last modified: Monday, January 21, 2013 11:34pm]
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