Emanuel King walks along Center Street in the Martin Luther King Jr. parade in Kingsport on Monday. Photo by David Grace
KINGSPORT — Nearly 50 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, calling for an end to racism in America before more than 200,000 people.
Half a century later, America’s first black president — Barack Obama — renewed his oath office on Monday and was sworn in to a second term on MLK Day.
“Who would have believed 50 years ago we would have a black man in the White House?” asked Overseer Ronnie Collins, who organized the annual MLK parade in downtown Kingsport on Monday. “We’re moving together, and as long as we’re going forward together, this is what it’s all about.”
The MLK parade — now in its 13th year — drew a crowd of roughly 100 people, a number on par with parades held in recent years. The crowd included both African-Americans and Caucasians, with a large percentage being kids and teens carrying signs reading “Hope,” “Blessed” and “Unity.”
A number of organizations were represented in Monday’s parade, including the Tri-Cities Military Affairs Council, the United Religions Initiative, the Green Interfaith Network and HopeTri-Cities.com. Central Baptist Church, Girls Inc., and Shiloh Baptist Church rounded out the rest of the parade participants.
The Tennessee/Virginia Fellowship Against Racism and the East Tennessee Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship sponsors and organizes the yearly parade on the national holiday honoring Dr. King.
Collins said this year’s parade theme is to “Remember and Act,” adding he is very excited to be celebrating the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in August.
“It’s surreal. If you look at where we’ve been and where we are now, there’s no comparison. The dream has not totally manifested, but it has brought us a long way in 50 years,” Collins said. “We really believe Dr. King made an impact on the country as well as the world, and one of the things we want to do here in Kingsport is keep the dream alive.
“Our main goal is now, to really try and get more of the young people out. It’s crucial to us, because it will be them who carry this on. It won’t be us, so we need to pass on the legacy.”
During his 15-minute inauguration speech on Monday, President Obama spoke on a number of hot topic issues he aims to address in his second term, such as climate change, gay marriage, immigration reform and gun control. The president also spoke on the widening gulf between the rich and the poor, calling “our generation’s task” to make the values of “life and liberty” real for every American.
“I believe it’s a wonderful day because (Obama) is being inaugurated today and it’s fitting we celebrate Dr. King the same day. But I’d rather be here because this is more important to me,” Collins said.
“We have to really always be focused on what’s going on in our community. Before we can do things in D.C., we have to start here. Always home first and then branch out.”