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Springer, Civil rights icon to head Houston’s MLK parade

January 8, 2019

Houston Astros outfielder George Springer and Congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis will be the grand marshals of Houston’s Martin Luther King Day Parade.

The grand marshals and the route of this year’s parade were announced by Mayor Sylvester Turner, who noted last July that the 40-year-old tribute begun by the Black Heritage Society would become an official city event. The downtown parade will be Jan. 21 on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

Lewis, of Georgia, marched with King and about 600 others through Selma, Alabama in 1965, after which he and others were attacked by white state troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, an event that came to be known as “Bloody Sunday.”

At a Monday press conference, Turner said the parade will “unite people from different faiths and cultures” as a “new tradition in honor of (King’s) life and legacy.”

The parade route will begin at 10 a.m. in front of City Hall, move to Louisiana where participants will march a six-block loop between Bell and Walker before ending at Lamar and Smith around noon.

Turner and others also dedicated this year’s parade to Ovide Duncantell, the longtime Houston civil rights activist and founder of the Black Heritage Society. Duncantell died in November at 82.

“Ovide, this one is for you,” Turner said.

Sylvester Brown, chief operating Officer of the Black Heritage Society, echoed that sentiment and noted that Houston’s MLK parade began five years before the bill making King’s birthday a federal holiday was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan.

“For 41 years, he fought to get to this point,” Brown said of Duncantell. ”...This has been a long time coming.”

Duncantell began the society’s annual MLK parade in 1978, by some accounts the first such parade in the country.

Since 1995, a second group launched by a former Black Heritage Society volunteer has put on a competing parade and schedule of events known as the MLK Grande Parade.

The result was an annual competition as both groups jockeyed for parade permits and participants, as well as repeated accusations between the two groups’ founders that the other was profiteering on parade proceeds. The rancor and dueling events prompted repeated calls from civic leaders over the years for the two groups to unite for a single MLK parade.

The groups unsuccessfully tried to unite for a joint parade in 2005.

Frustrated by the competing events that asked Houstonians to divide their time between two parades, Turner last year put the city’s backing behind the Black Heritage Society’s parade. He said at the time that choosing between two events may have kept some from attending, and that the competing parades was also a waste of resources.

robert.downen@chron.com

twitter.com/RobDownenChron

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