They came to downtown Oklahoma City: Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, civic clubs and church groups, labor unions and small businesses. And, there were politicians of every hue: mostly Democrats (like state Reps. Mike Shelton and Anastasia Pittman, and congressional candidate Tom Guild) but also a contingent of local Republicans, including Jason Reese.
The City Sentinel’s reporter watched the marchers in the annual Martin Luther King parade from in front of St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral. Familiar faces from the Northwest Classen Junior ROTC contingent advanced, carrying a massive American flag; the bands from Frederick A. Douglass and Star Spencer High Schools, the Peace House and scores of others walked by. Without fanfare, Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange walked with members of her sorority, greeting friends along the way.
Near the end, a vehicle pulled a trailer mounted with a facsimile of the Birmingham Jail. A man portrayed Dr. King in his prime, at the spot where he composed a 1963 letter that still stirs the heart with its appeal to “the gospel of freedom.”
Along nearby Robinson Avenue, various equestrian units waited patiently for their turn along the route.
One rider, owner of a chestnut horse, laughed with a reporter over the reasons “they always put the horses at the back of the parade.” Like others, the pair marveled over the weather, which had neared 70 degrees as the marchers kicked off at 2 p.m., and commented on the large crowd clustered around NW 8 and Broadway, and strung south along the route.
There was pleasant conversation with the impeccably dressed and well-spoken cowboy in attendance for the festivities.
The day ended with a singular blessing.
A solitary scribe sat drinking coffee at Elementals (NW 8 and Hudson), looking east as the sun settled in the western sky behind. Things turned cool as shadows lengthened. The coffee countered the chill, then a horseman rode by atop a beautiful dark horse.
Tall in the saddle in his black Stetson, the African-American cowpoke advanced north, presumably headed to wherever his group (the EastSide Roundup Club) had parked horse trailers south of Plaza Court. In front, seated upright and protected in his arms, was a child dressed in pink. Her face combined sheer joy with wide-eyed concern.
Thus began a brief, personal MLK Day parade. Two dozen riders passed by in groups of two or three, laughing and waving back at the coffee drinker. They got the private joke over passing in review for a crowd of one. Most horsemen stayed in the street, cars halting at the corner stop signs to let them advance.
A few riders passed through the grass bordering Hudson northwest of the federal building. One young man, hatless, stopped directly across from Elementals, then took his horse on a sideways canter for 30 or 40 yards, until straightening the course at the street’s edge.
There was no camera, so memory must suffice. It was a unique, Oklahoma kind of moment, watching cowboys after a long parade.
Some 150 entries took more than two-and-a-half hours to move down Broadway Avenue, and into Bricktown. Then, many of them rode or walked back to the area around St. Paul’s.
It was a good day, peaceful, meaningful and tender. It included remembrance of the man whose work existed in a context. It included recollection of the words of a white Oklahoma City man, now deceased but in his own primetime during the 1960s.
That gentle man commented on news stories about Dr. King, telling his children: “This family believes in the Constitution of the United States. We support the dignity of every man, and his right to live free, under Almighty God.”
A journey, well begun, continues.