Saturday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade moved north into Wichita’s downtown and turned west at Douglas and Broadway as it passed what is now the Ambassador Hotel on the southeast corner.
That was fitting because the hotel is the site of one of the nation’s first youth-led lunch counter sit-in that brought about widespread changes.
The building once housed Dockum Rexall Drugstore where, in 1958, two members of the NAACP Youth Council in Wichita led a protest against lunch counters that denied service to black residents.
Monday is the national holiday celebrating King’s life and civil rights efforts before he was assassinated on April 4, 1968. But Saturday’s parade and surrounding activities were aimed at teaching youth about the depth of the civil rights movement and what King represented.
“All many kids have heard about Dr. King is his ‘I have a dream’ speech,” said the Rev. Wade Moore, pastor at Christian Faith Centre. “There’s much more to it. We want them to know what he stood for.”
Moore and his church joined with the Kansas African American Museum in organizing the fifth-annual parade.
But before the march began mid-morning from Moore’s church near Lincoln and Broadway, about 200 children and young adults gobbled up a pancake breakfast in the church’s basement. They then moved upstairs to classrooms where they were divided by age group and learned about King’s principles, segregation and civil rights.
After the 30-minute sessions, Aeirus Gannt, 14, said, “I learned Martin Luther King stood up for black rights and all African-Americans. He wanted people to fight with their words, not physically.”
During the break-out sessions, the children also made signs with their favorite King quotes and carried them during the parade.
“He changed laws peacefully,” Aniya Bodney, 8, said as she finished up one of the signs.
Before the teaching time, Aarolyn Porter, 9, said she knew some things about King.
“He was a minister, he went to college and he got shot,” she said. “He was trying to stop people from being racists.”
Damaris West, 8, added, “He had a dream.”
Yes, he did, and the former Atlanta minister talked about that dream in a speech in 1963 in Washington, D.C.
Moore, 49, grew up in rural Arkansas. He remembers that first day of school in the fall of 1968, riding a bus as a second-grader with other black children to a previously all-white school in Joiner, Ark.
“Our driver, who was also black, stopped the bus just before we got there,” Moore said. “He told us how to act and what to expect. That was a life-changing moment.”
He wanted the children to learn about such moments on Saturday and what King did to bring about changes.
“I hope they take away a sense of pride and service,” Moore said. “How to better serve their community.”
Angela Scott, the education director at the Kansas African American Museum, said the work King did helped to bring about equal rights for women and the disabled, and religious freedom.
“It’s important the children understand the significance,” she said, “so they can take it forward.”
During the parade, a woman marching up Broadway, shouted, “Are you living the dream?”
Those walking alongside her responded, “Dr. King, we’re living the dream.”
At the end of the parade the marchers gathered at the Chester I. Lewis Reflection Square Park on Douglas. Moore and others took turns addressing the crowd as the stood in front of the sculpture of the Dockum lunch counter.
“We need to get the message across in a peaceful way,” City Council member Lavonta Williams told the gathering. “We need to make sure they know the story, so they can continue the story.”