By Reggie Connell/Managing Editor of The Apopka Voice
Yesterday I attended my third Apopka Martin Luther King Jr. Parade as Managing Editor of The Apopka Voice. Once again it was an exciting, entertaining and inspiring event. The weather was absolutely perfect, and the parade entrees were engaging.
However what I enjoy most about this parade is the close proximity the entrees have to the audience, and how they, in some cases, literally live on the parade route and walk out of their homes on to their lawns to watch. The path goes down Marvin C. Zanders Avenue south past MA Board Street and Michael Gladden Boulevard, then turns right on 13th Street and finishes at the John Bridges Center.
Instead of a “Main Street” venue, the parade winds through the community. There are houses on both sides of the street. Neighbors barbecue together, drink beer and socialize along the route. The street is narrow, and the spectators can interact with those in the parade.
It’s like a massive block party right in the heart of South Apopka.
Spending the afternoon in this community with its people, watching the parade, and celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. King almost always leave me with warm feelings about the South Apopka community, whether north or south of 10th Street and questions about MLK and his world-changing movement.
Last year in my MLK Parade column I asked a question: What would Dr. King think about South Apopka if he were alive today?
And now, two days after the parade, I’m still struggling and wrestling with this notion:
What would America think about Martin Luther King Jr. if he were alive today?
We assume, of course, that he would be revered at any period in our history, but in today’s climate would that be true?
Would his message and approach work today? Would MLK survive the current tone in Washington DC? Would he be pilloried by Facebook attacks? Would his words unite us as a nation in today’s climate, or further divide? Or would he be exactly what is needed?
At the time of his death, King was a self-avowed democratic socialist who called for massive spending in the inner cities and was in the process of organizing a “poor people’s march” into Washington. He was vocally against the Vietnam War at a time when it was unpopular to do so, and he had detractors on both sides of the political aisle, as well as within his own movement.
Would America, in its current political state, sincerely rally behind a democratic socialist, anti-war activist who called for the government to spend MORE money on large population centers like New York City, Chicago, and Detroit and who did not have solid support in Congress, the White House, or even in some cases among his own movement? Or would America in 2018 write him off as an opportunistic political ideologue?
However radical King’s viewpoints were in the 60’s, his approach was always that of a “moderate militant”. He was in complete opposition to violent tactics and actually was in favor of negotiating when many of his supporters wanted faster progress.
King argued that racism in America meant the United States was not living up to its own ideals. At the very core of the Declaration of Independence and thus at the center of American life was the belief that “all men are created equal.”
King did not want to challenge, let alone replace, ideals of freedom and equality. He wanted America to better embody them. He argued that the civil rights movement was just the latest in a long American tradition that was both grounded in those ideals and sought to make them more authentic
If a civil rights leader scolded America by telling us to live up to our own ideals, what would our reaction be?
King’s resistance was also strictly nonviolent. Following the model of civil resistance developed by Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of Indian independence, King argued for nonviolence within the terms of his own Christian faith. King said that by responding to injustice with civility and to violence with nonviolence, the resister was fulfilling “the Christian doctrine of love your neighbor as yourself and love your enemies.” This was the love that Jesus epitomized, and which his followers were called to emulate.
The Jim Crow system of racial segregation rested on the idea that African-Americans were inferior to whites. By rigidly adhering to the high road, the actions of protesters proved that that entire system was based on a falsehood. Indeed, if anything, actions on both sides demonstrated the opposite. King’s non-violent approach disproved the premise.
The fundamental purpose of resistance was to effect political change and that meant operating within existing political institutions, and it also often required compromise.
For example, at the 1964 Democratic National Convention, a crisis developed when the newly created and integrated “Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party” demanded they be recognized and seated instead of the all-white “official” Mississippi delegation. They argued they were the truly democratic representatives of the state as they were the product of procedures fair and open to all.
Party leaders worked out a compromise that allowed the Mississippi delegation to remain. King accepted this compromise, but many advocates condemned it as an illegitimate accommodation to racism.
King believed it was slow progress, and one year later, President Lyndon B. Johnson, rarely a supporter of Dr. King, signed the Voting Rights Act which ensured voting rights for all African-Americans and brought federal control over elections in the South.
In reality, there is no way to know what America would think about Dr. King’s message and approach. The bigger question might be who could possibly take on that massive responsibility?
Movements with the impact of Dr. King’s rarely find a clear-cut leader to take their place.
No one took Jesus’ place. He had disciples and apostles who advanced his message, but in the end, there was never a leader like the original. The Christian movement fragmented into hundreds of people spreading its message of loving your neighbor, serving, blessing and feeding the poor until it reached thousands, and then hundreds of thousands and now millions.
King is similar in that there was never a clear-cut leader that took his place. It is seen in hundreds of people who advance and remember his legacy. There have been civil rights leaders to emerge, but none to rival King. His message too is fragmented and shared with hundreds and then thousands and now millions, but specifically here in Apopka I watched them pass by me at the MLK Parade.
Among King’s thousand points of light are Grand Marshals Bertha McGraw, Carroll Grimando, Griselda Payne. They are South Apopka Ministerial Alliance President Hezekiah Bradford. They are Pleasant View Baptist Church, the Apopka High School Marching Band, the Wekiva Girls Basketball team, the Apopka Progressive Club, St. Paul AME Church, the Apopka Farmworkers Association, Solomon Ladge #53, Davis Chapter #36 OES Love Circle #9, Citronella Court #93 Heroines of Jericho, Shafi Court #25 DOS, Roland A. Baker Lodge #2, Trailmasters, Delta Sigma Theta OAC DST, the Channel Wright Foundation, New Hope Youth Department, Phillis Wheatley PTA, the Beehive Lodge #779, Florida Hospital Apopka, Community Health Centers, Notre Dame Americorps, Hope Community Center, Temple of Faith Church, Temple of Faith Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and the Fountain of Life Church.
I’m sure there were many others, but that’s who passed by me on the parade trail, and who made me smile and believe that Dr. King’s legacy lives on in these children, people, and organizations.
A special thank you to Pastor Hezekiah Bradford and the South Apopka Ministerial Alliance for putting on this inspiring parade and for keeping Martin Luther King’s message close to our hearts every year. I know how hard you fight to fund and organize it.
And thank you to the people of South Apopka for your warmth, your rich history and for your hospitality and patience while spectators walk right through your front yards and you simply smile and say hello.
I’m looking forward to next year already.