MLK parade

A banner is placed on a van prior to the Northern Orange Dr. Martin Luther King Celebration Monday morning.

The morning air was chilly and breezy, but the sun was bright and the smiles were wide as cars lined up in the parking lot near N.C. 70 and Churton Street to take part in the Northern Orange MLK Day parade. Members of area organizations and churches decorated their cars, vans and buses with signs, balloons and flowers to commemorate the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This year marked the 26th year of the march, but the first parade, thanks to the pandemic. More than 20 vehicles took part in the parade.

“We are we expecting a nice turnout of parade participants, but we're not sure how it's gonna look through downtown as far as spectators on the sidewalk,” said Rev. Norman Umstead, who is the Pastor at Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in Mebane, and is President of the Northern Orange Dr. MLK Commemoration. “Because of COVID we realized that it was going to restrict what we could do, but we felt like we had to do something in honor of the Martin Luther King holiday. We believe that this was the safest measure we could take.” 

In spite of the events of the past year, with regard to the George Floyd killing and protests of police brutality, Umstead said he believes this year’s MLK celebration carries the message as in previous years.

“I think it’s the same spirit every year. The King legacy stands by itself and it always has. With everything that's going on in the country, with the division nationwide. What better time then then now to make sure we don’t drop the ball.” 

Dorothy Shanklin said, pandemic or not, she would never miss the annual celebration. “I wouldn't miss it,” she said. “I’ve been coming for, I don't know how many years, and I will continue as long as I'm able, because I care a lot about him. And I wanted to be in this parade. I was going to be in it if I was in it by myself. And I’m happy to celebrate Dr. King even though we can’t go to the church like we used to.”

Glenda Holloway said marching — or in this year’s case, parading — for Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday reminds her of past marches. “Today takes me back to the 60s,” she said. “I started out at Central High in Hillsborough and I wound up at Orange High before it was integrated. And I have tried to participate in the marches because we marched back in the 60s. It brings back so many memories. We have come a long way but we have a longer way to go. I enjoy it every year.” 

Angela Smith agreed that today’s celebration is still a reminder that society has a long way to go. “We kind of sit in silence sometimes thinking everything is getting better, but George Floyd has shown us that it hasn’t,” Smith said. “People that we’re around every day,  we don’t know if they’re for us or against us. It’s an eye opener to me. It's heartbreaking some of the things we've experienced over the last few years.”

But she said she’s still hopeful things will get better. “I am always optimistic. At the same time, the reality is some people are just not going to change. So, we have to keep moving forward.”

Further toward downtown, Belballa Rushing was sitting with a few other people waiting for the parade. She was energized and excited to celebrate Dr. King’s birthday. “I just cannot sit at home and not come out,” she said. “Martin Luther King did all he could in this world. He fought and fought and fought.”

David Yelton, who was also watching for the parade along Churton Street, said it was his duty to take part in honoring King’s memory and mission. “It means a lot about our whole society and our vision of what we can do together, as a society. Martin Luther King had a dream that we could pull this together. And I'm here doing my part, along with my friend, Patty O'Connor, to honor and honor the dream, and to help fulfill that as best we can.”