The 39th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Walk and Parade is Monday and District officials have teamed up with community leaders to ensure that the event highlights the revival of a local civil rights movement as well as a day to remember the slain icon.
The event will begin in Southeast at 11 a.m. as participants assemble at the intersection of MLK Jr. Avenue and Good Hope Road. The parade starts at noon and proceeds south on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE through Anacostia to the grounds of St. Elizabeths East, where a Health and Community Fair will be held at the Gateway Pavillon.
The parade was conceived in 1977 by the late Dr. Calvin W. Rolark, founder of The Washington Informer and co-founder of the United Black Fund, along with his wife, the late Ward 8 Council member Wilhelmina J. Rolark, Esq., and the late Ralph “Petey” Greene, a community activist and radio personality.
D.C. was one of the first jurisdictions in the nation to hold a parade honoring King following his untimely death on April 4, 1968. Across the nation and the world, King’s life and legacy is commemorated by a day of service, promoted as “A Day On and Not a Day Off.”
Denise Rolark Barnes, publisher of The Informer, and community activist Stuart Anderson are co-chairs of the parade, now into its fourth decade.
“The parade is important to commemorate our past and to remember,” said John W. McCaskill, an educator and historian at the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site. “Knowing where we come from and where we are today, we have to educate this generation.”
The Masons from Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia will also march in the parade — a special moment for Quincy Gant, Grand Master of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia.
“For years I have heard the question asked about marching in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade,” Gant said in a statement. “Well, thanks to the Worshipful Grand Director of Community Relations and Government Affairs Willie Bennett and his committee, the time is here!
“I am requesting as many as possible to participate to show our changing city that our Masonic family is still here and committed to our community,” Gant said. “The Martin Luther King Jr. Parade symbolizes the need to continue Dr. King’s work and reinforces the idea reflected in his words, ‘Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable … every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”
WJLA-TV (Channel 7) news reporter Sam Ford has long been a supporter of the parade.
“People worked hard to get the holiday and the nation’s capital ought to have a parade on the federal holiday,” Ford said. “When I came to D.C. in 1982, there was a parade and federal holiday. Through the years, the current mayor has been very helpful to keep the parade going and this year Channel 7 is going all-out, complete with eight cameras, reporters and anchors.”
The parade concludes several days of related activities. On Saturday, there will be a prayer breakfast at the Temple of Praise, followed by an interfaith service at Covenant Baptist Church the following day.
“I think it embraces everyone’s differences,” said Peggy Gilgannon, a retired WJLA camerawoman. “We get to march together and celebrate his legacy. The last story that I shot with Sam Ford was the Martin Luther King parade in 2016. Now I’m part of the organizing of the event so that I can experience it all.”