City schism

Separate but equal? Dueling MLK Day parade "tradition" continues: Who won this year?

Separate but equal? Dueling MLK Day parade "tradition" continues: Who won this year?

MLK Day Parade 3
Dancers from Jack Yates High School dazzled the "Original" parade.
MLK Day Parade
Milby High School's marching band performed along Allen Parkway.
MLK Day Parade 2
A fun-filled float from Fiesta at the "Original" parade.
MLK Day Parade 4
The Jack Yates High School marching band performs along Texas Avenue at the "Original" parade.
MLK Day Parade 3
MLK Day Parade
MLK Day Parade 2
MLK Day Parade 4

It was double trouble on the east and west ends of downtown on Monday as Houston's two competing Marin Luther King, Jr. Day parades took to the streets. Pageantry prevailed at the simultaneous extravaganzas, which drew considerable crowds out of the foggy morning.

The 33rd annual "Original" Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Parade Celebration, hosted by the Black Heritage Society, kicked off at Minute Maid Park, while its competitor, the MLK Grande Parade, launched along Allen Parkway near Taft. Each incarnation offered its own perks: the "Original" featured Jolanda "Jo" Jones, Farouk Shami and the Jack Yates High School marching band and drill team. The Allen Parkway audience was far from want for high school bands, however, enjoying lineups from academies across the city and suburbs.

"The bands. I come for the bands," said audience member Lisa Davis at the MLK Grande Parade, before migrating to the "Original" downtown celebration.

"I usually go downtown," said Mary Doyle, a clerk at Ortiz Middle School. "But our school's band is here this year." Doyle cited better parking and broader vistas as perks of the Allen Parkway procession.

The two celebrations also boasted acts by children cheerleaders and displays of bling vintage car collections.

The elephant on the streets loomed: Why are there two parades? The saga bears retelling.

The Black Heritage Society had been involved in a tug-of-war with the MLK Parade Foundation over the city permit to host the main downtown parade until City Council intervened by revising Houston's parade ordinance to allow a single downtown parade per day. The director of the Black Heritage Society's parade, Ovide Duncantell, subsequently filed suit. In Dec. 2007, a federal judge ruled that both parades could function on the same day.

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee took the side of the Black Heritage Society by declaring in City Hall's rotunda that that event was the "unity parade."

The dueling parade dispute traces back all the way to the 1990s, almost becoming an official part of the peace-loving Martin Luther King Jr.'s day in Houston.

Today, the muddy median of Allen Parkway was a decidedly less appealing surface than the broad sidewalks bordering Minute Maid, but both events exuded with joy. In a city as diverse as Houston, perhaps it's only fitting that we have two opportunities for commemorating the civil rights hero.