Scott County

Honoring King, his legacy

Vanessa Sanford, center, of Lexington led songs, including This Is the Day, with a bullhorn while participating in Monday's Martin Luther King Jr. Day march in downtown Lexington. "I look forward to coming together even if it is for one day," said Sanford, who has participated in the annual marches since the early 1980s.
Vanessa Sanford, center, of Lexington led songs, including This Is the Day, with a bullhorn while participating in Monday's Martin Luther King Jr. Day march in downtown Lexington. "I look forward to coming together even if it is for one day," said Sanford, who has participated in the annual marches since the early 1980s.

The wall of people spread from sidewalk to sidewalk as Lexington's annual Martin Luther King Jr. march moved through downtown Monday, with stragglers joking as they scurried to catch up that "the last shall be first."

But near the head of the line was Mike Wilson, who marches every year.

At 61 he knows that changes have come because King successfully spread his message of equality.

Wilson remembers as a boy in Lexington asking his mother why they had to stand at the end of the counter in Walgreens and why they had take the food they bought there home to eat.

And he remembers the people who took their seats at lunch counters to change that.

Parade organizer Terry Allen said there are many stalwarts among the 2,500 marchers in Lexington. Many organizations appear year after year, and there are lots of faces in the crowd that he has come to know simply because they march every year.

He said MLK Day "doesn't mean the same thing to any two people who participate."

The man's work so affected people's lives "it is a personal endeavor" to participate in the celebration.

"That's what makes it unique," Allen said.

The slain civil rights leader's legacy is alive in the interactions that happen every day that were once considered rare, Wilson said.

"It's important to recognize this man and his work," said Wilson, who often finds himself manning the bullhorn and leading the singing as the march moves through the street.

The march, he said, reminds the current generation of what was sacrificed to make such a public rally possible.

"Unfortunately there are some young people that don't understand the man and his message," he said.

"It's hard for people to even process" how much race relations have changed, he said. "Especially the young."

Marching as he does every year "is an opportunity to reflect and to remember and help educate the community," said Wilson, a former Lexington Urban County Council member. "When we look back at certain points," he said, "it's unbelievable to see this many people marching.

"It's inspiring."

Although smaller in size — attracting about 100 to 150 people — the Georgetown parade is filled with spirit, too.

Byron Moran has walked every year since the march began in 2003.

There are even a handful of participants who make a day of it, marching in Lexington in the morning and in Georgetown in the afternoon. Like Wilson, Moran thinks "it's important to recognize the people that made it possible for the progression of this country."

Moran, president of the Scott County chapter of the NAACP, said it's quite a sight to see Main Street filled with people singing songs that reflect the rich history of the civil rights movement. He said he thinks King's message not only changed how African-Americans were treated under the Constitution but also opened the eyes of some about their place among God's children.

His favorite part of MLK Day is the moment of silence, during which people join hands, before the march begins. "Everybody puts aside their busy, busy schedule to reflect how things have changed."

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