Bands tune up for King-size tribute

Monday's parade is one of the nation's largest in honor of the civil rights leader.

Published January 10, 2007

As St. Petersburg gears up to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a packed lineup of events, marching bands nationwide are preparing for the annual band showcase and parade known as hallmarks of the city's annual celebration.

The Drum Major for Justice Battle of the Bands and Drumline Extravaganza on Sunday will feature marching bands from seven states, along with the Historically Black Colleges & Universities All-Star band, beginning at 6:15 p.m. at Tropicana Field.

The annual parade begins at 1:15 p.m. Monday and includes many of the same marching bands, along with community organizations, religious contingents and students from area schools. The parade, one of the nation's largest in honor of the slain civil rights leader, draws tens of thousands of spectators each year. It starts at Third Street S and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St., goes north to Central Avenue and heads east on Bayshore Drive before ending at Vinoy Park. Vendors will sell food, drinks and other items along the route.

The celebration actually kicks off Thursday night, with the MLK essay contest finals, where high school students will make their final presentations.

On Friday, the Rev. Walter E. Fauntroy, a veteran civil rights campaigner who helped organize the 1963 March on Washington, will be the keynote speaker at the National Martin Luther King Jr. Drum Major for Justice Awards Banquet at the Hilton Hotel, 333 First St. N.

Fauntroy, one of King's aides, also spoke at the banquet in 2003, the same year he asked the St. Petersburg City Council to remove the longstanding numeric designation "Ninth" from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street.

The annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Breakfast will be held at 7:30 a.m. Monday morning.

"The holiday commemorates his values, as he exemplified truth, courage, justice, compassion, dignity, humility and, above all, service," said Dianne Speights, president of the National Council of Negro Women, St. Petersburg Metropolitan Section, which sponsors the 21st annual event.

The breakfast honors those that exhibit those same selfless characteristics, she said.

Religious organizations in St. Petersburg will mark the holiday with an interfaith service.

The Rev. Abhi Janamanchi of Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater, known locally for his efforts for social justice, will give the sermon. Born in India, Janamanchi said he will make a connection between King and Mohandas Gandhi.

"He's a giant in India," Janamanchi said of King. "Dr. King is regarded as a prophet and a saint.

"There's a deep reverence for his work, his work for the downtrodden. ... We Shall Overcome has been translated into eight or 10 Indian languages and is sung as an anthem at rallies that come together to protest any kind of social justice," he said. "So he's very much alive in people's hearts and minds."

Those who attend the service also will hear the winning essays from the MLK contest.

On Monday, members of the mostly white St. Petersburg Ministerial Association and the predominantly African-American Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance will march together in the parade.

"We want to be a symbol to our community about our intention to work together," said Doug Harrell, president of the St. Petersburg Ministerial Association. "We support Dr. King's legacy and all the good that has come from that through the years, but we're not finished yet. We have a lot to do."

Last year's effort was organized through word of mouth and phone calls, Harrell said. About 20 people participated. "I'm hoping for maybe double this year," he said.

Times staff writers Jon Wilson and Waveney Ann Moore contributed to this report.