On the day of what would have been Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 95th birthday, hundreds gathered to celebrate the life of one of the most prominent leaders in the civil rights movement.
The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of Florida Inc. hosted its annual MLK Holiday Parade along with its 40th anniversary Hall of Fame Enshrinement on Monday.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of convenience and comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy,” said the Rev. Dr. Marie Herring, reciting King’s quote.
During her prayer, Herring, the chaplain of the MLK Commission of Florida, said she appreciated King’s gentle courage to fight against injustice and inequality through non-violent tactics.
“He showed his love for all and he gave his life for others,” Herring said. “We thank the lives of the people who stood up and did not give in. Grant that we will go on with faith, determination, and will to make a great contribution in this world.”
At the MLK Memorial Garden in front of Gainesville City Hall, Eastside High School’s student body president and the 2024 Edna M. Hart Keeper of the Dream Scholarship recipient, Justice Alexander, and MLK Commission of Florida Founder and the 2024 Hall of Fame recipient Rodney J. Long were enshrined in their respective boards along with other recipients in the past.
Long introduced Alexander to the audience to receive her award and scholarship.
Alachua County School Board member and Vice President of MLK Commission of Florida Diyonne McGraw introduced Long to receive his Hall of Fame award.
“Forty years is a long time — that’s a generation,” Long said. “We created this to eliminate the poverty and racism in Alachua County. This commission has been getting things done in honor of MLK.”
The MLK Memorial Garden was established in 1988 with the help of the city of Gainesville.
Long recognized the architects, designers,s, and builders of the MLK memorial: John Clark, Elsbeth “Buff” Gordon and Charles Buggs.
“I want to thank the board for the incredible work they put in over the years,” said Gainesville Mayor Harvey Ward. “This belongs to all of us and I’m glad we are using it together.”
In 1982, Long organized the first Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative March while attending the University of Florida. It went from the UF Plaza of Americas to the Downtown Community Plaza.
In 1984, Long requested the Gainesville City Commission to appoint a King Memorial Celebration Committee. In 1985, the King Celebration Committee merged with the Friends of Culture Commission, Inc., and the new organization was called the Martin Luther King, Jr., Fund, Inc.
In 1993, the Martin Luther King, Jr., Fund, Inc., changed its name to the Martin Luther King, Jr., Commission of Florida, Inc.
Long and the MLK Commission of Florida also helped in the renaming of U.S. 441 to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Highway from Columbia County to Marion County. It is the longest named highway honoring King.
“I want to thank everyone who has been a part of this for 40 years,” Long said. “The city of Gainesville has been with us since Day One.”
Residents, organizations and agencies with their signs gathered in the street in front of City Hall to prepare to walk to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Multipurpose Center for a celebration featuring Little Jake and The Soul Searchers.
Fernetta Brown attended the march with her niece.
“I wouldn’t miss it,” Brown said. “His impact made a big difference in the world. He is one of the reasons we can come and work together.”
Gayle Jackson said this was her first time participating in the march and loved seeing the camaraderie amongst the marchers.
“I think it’s good that we are all here and united,” Jackson said. “I love that we are coming together for a good cause. He made a great impact in the world and he stood up for our rights and did it nonviolently. Our history showed that we have strength in numbers.”