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United in celebration

Hundreds watch the Drum Major for Justice parade in St. Petersburg.

By NICOLE HUTCHESON, Times Staff Writer
Published January 22, 2008


ST. PETERSBURG

Brothers Marcus and Marquel Thompson scampered to the front of the barricade to check out the loud fire engine creeping down Central Avenue.

Firefighters towered over the boys, ages 6 and 7, passing each one a strand of red beads. The boys gazed up at them and then at each other as if to say: Who knew a Martin Luther King Jr. celebration could be so cool?

"This is totally for my kids," said their mother, Trina Thompson, 37. "They need to know about this."

Monday marked St. Petersburg's 23rd annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drum Major for Justice National Parade. Hundreds turned out for the event, one of several taking place across the state and nation to honor the slain civil rights leader.

Earlier in the day, a crowd of more than 1,100 attended the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Awards Breakfast at St. Petersburg's Coliseum. The event, attended by droves of St. Petersburg dignitaries, had a record turnout, according to Dianne Speights, who coordinated the breakfast along with other members of the National Council for Negro Women St. Petersburg Metropolitan chapter.

This year's parade appeared to draw fewer float entries, but made up for it with more bands, according to St. Petersburg police.

Of particular interest was the Obama "O-Train" float, which featured five train cars and a diverse crew aboard. "No matter what your color, you come here to honor Dr. Martin Luther King," said Jerome Hinton, 51, a self-employed St. Petersburg resident.

Giddy passengers on the O-Train passed out red, white and blue Tootsie Roll candies. But colorful beads were truly the grand prize for parade onlookers this year.

Bethany Humphrey, 10, was busy munching on fried shrimp drenched in ketchup but promptly stopped eating as the South Carolina State University Marching Band stomped down the road tossing beads.

"I'd like to be one of those girls who dance," said Bethany, a fifth-grader at Riverhills Elementary School who had a neck full of colorful beads.

But her father, Walter Humphrey, reminded her of the real reason for attending the parade.

"This is to remind us of our culture," said Humphrey, 50, a retired military man. "Our history."

Times staff writer Abhi Raghunathan contributed to this report. Nicole Hutcheson can be reached at nhutcheson@sptimes.com or 727893-8828.