MLK parade

[email protected]

January 20, 2003

A funny thing happened on the way to the Martin Luther King parade

today. A number of people joined the march, myself included,

holding signs with MLK quotations that expressed his anti-war, pro-

peace position. Mine said, “I speak as a citizen of the world, which

stands aghast at the path we have taken,” from his speech in

opposition to the Vietnam War. On the other side, I’d written “What

Would MLK Do?”

Other signs featured such King quotations as, “Overcome violence

without resorting to violence,” and “Wars producing wars must be

broken” and “Non-violence or non-existence.” Some posters did not

quote King, but included anti-war sentiments, such as “Fix America

not Iraq.” All of us, I think, saw the MLK parade as an opportunity to

help reinvigorate King’s anti-war politics–certainly not to

appropriate the parade for an agenda somehow divorced from it. I

even called the Human Rights Commission to ask if we could join

the march, as long as our posters quoted and supported the spirit of

MLK Day. I forwarded them a page that described similar anti-war

MLK marches across the country. I left my number, but no one

returned my call. I assumed we would be welcome.

The not so funny thing that happened was that an African American

woman irately told those holding peace signs that we were to go “to

the back of the parade” since this was a “Martin Luther King parade

not an anti-war demonstration.” When I said, “But King was against

war,” she said that didn’t matter and “we want you to go to the back of

the parade.” The irony of being sent to the back of an MLK parade is,

I hope, lost on no one.

But another irony makes me sadder. And that is that just before this

person regaled us (those of us who obeyed) to the back of the

proverbial bus, she was in close and animated conversation with our

mayor Sandy Jones and judge executive Mike Buchanon, who had

been watching us suspiciously since we arrived (I was beginning to

feel like a dirty commie). To those of us who can add 2 and 2, it’s

pretty obvious that these two city leaders need to do exactly what

Dean Howard Bailey later (during the program in Van Meter) urged

us to do–to look beyond “I have a dream” to King’s radical vision of

peace and his advocacy of “direct non-violent action.”

The program, which was stirring and inspiring, made me proud of our

community and my university. I loved what Marshall Gray, Howard

Bailey, and Rev. Bryant had to say. I was moved by the African

American singers, drummers, and dancers. After the program a

number of sign-wielders said they felt vindicated. An African

American man came up to me afterwards and said, “Sending you to

the back of the parade like that . . . no disrespect was intended.”

Thanks to the program planners, performers, and speakers, I’d just

like to say, “none taken.”

Jane Olmsted

Director, Women’s Studies

Associate Prof,, English