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The Times-Picayune: West Jefferson's MLK Day Parade draws thousands

Paul Purpura

January 21, 2013

About a block from where Jefferson Parish's annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade ended in Marrero, Westwego's District 1 Councilman Glenn Green stepped proudly Monday, his head held high as he kept his brassy walking cane in cadence with his step. He recalled one of his previous marches about 17 years ago, when law enforcement sources warned him that two men planned to shoot him along the parade's route when it followed 4th Street in Westwego.

"You know, the first time I did that, there were threats on my life," Green said, recalling how U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, early in her career in Washington D.C., joined him and told him, "If they shoot you, they shoot me."

Thousands of people celebrated the national holiday along several Marrero streets Monday, marking what would have been the slain civil rights leader's 84th birthday, had he not been assassinated in Memphis, Tenn., almost 45 years ago.

West Jefferson has held the MLK Day parade since 1995, officials said. It was big then, recalled state Rep. Robert Billiot.

"And now it's huge, and I am tickled to death," said Billiot, who was Westwego's mayor when the parade began and who has marched every year since.

Had President Barrack Obama's inauguration ceremony not been held Monday morning, more people likely would have lined the parade route, Billiot said.

A product of the parish's MLK Task Force, this year's parade featured about 2,000 people in high school marching bands, civic organizations, Shriners and people on horseback, said Chavonne Thompson, an aide to Jefferson Parish Councilman Mark Spears, who was among the elected officials who led the parade, among them Parish President John Young and state Rep. Girod Jackson.

"People were asking me all the way to this morning if they can march in this parade,"said Clara Byes, a retired Jefferson Parish educator and president of the MLK Day Task Force, which organizes the parade.

Leading the parade, behind the fire trucks and just ahead of the elected officials, was a pick-up truck in whose bed were two large speakers through which recordings of King's speeches continually looped.

The parade began at 10 a.m., on Lapalco Boulevard at Westwood Drive. Just over two hours passed by the time the parade's lead elements reached Johnny Jacobs Playground at the Westbank Expressway, the end of the route.

"The purpose of all this is really to bring people together in a unified way," said Byes, who rode the route in the back of a convertible.

This year's parade theme, Byes said, was "Moving Forward Together."

"The purpose of all this is really to bring people together in a unified way." Clara Byes, MLK Task Force president.

"In order to do that, we have to go back to the basics," she said of strengthening families, "in order to have a better community and a better nation."

"We have to learn how to live together and work together," Byes said.

 

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