Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Crystal River hosted its first march to honor the legacy of the American civil rights leader who preached a peaceful push for freedom and equality.
The city council, residents and several civic groups in the area braved the freezing winds on Monday, Jan. 17, to honor King and his dream with a joint walk from Jim LeGrone Memorial Park to Frederick W. Copeland Community Park.
Most of the procession’s half-mile route was on Eighth Avenue, which the city recently renamed King at the behest of its residents in the Knights Addition neighborhood, which the 2-mile road divides before continue north across State Road 44.
Street signs bearing the title Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue were unveiled Monday in conjunction with the city’s annual recognition of King’s birthday on the federal holiday. More panels will be revealed in the future as the city acquires them.
Crystal River renames Eighth Avenue in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Members of the George Washington Carver Community Center (GWCCC) hosted the event, which ended with a celebration of King with solemn remarks, music and food.
“Lord, I ask that You may give us what Dr. King had – a dream…” The Unity Church of Christ Written in Heaven, Pastor Theodore Hopkins said in prayer. “We’re all of one race, and that’s the human race, and you’ve given us the grace to understand that, and we believe that and we’re going to walk in it.”
While the cold may have kept more people from showing up, the lack of turnout didn’t diminish the voices of those who wanted to share King’s vision.
“It’s not about people,” said Coressa Natteal, chair of the GWCCC board. “This is the message.”
Natteal told the Chronicle that the GWCCC will work to make Crystal River’s next Martin Luther King Jr. Day event bigger and better.
“We just want the community to be more involved,” she said, “and we want young people to know what that really means; we have to go back to the roots of what Dr. King said and what he meant.
A cruiser from the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office and an engine from the Crystal River Fire Department led the parade out of LeGrone Park with their sirens and horns blaring to mark the occasion.
Crystal River Mayor Joe Meek, City Manager Ken Frink and Council Members Cindi Guy, Ken Brown, Pat Fitzpatrick and Robert Holmes walked behind emergency vehicles alongside city staff.
Meek told attendees at the event that the city is grateful to its organized citizens for the new name for Eighth Avenue.
“It was a long time coming,” he said. “We are happy to be able to join forces with those who have made this possible.”
George Ann Jackson, secretary of the GWCCC, said she was grateful to see Crystal River commemorate King as the towns of Inverness and Dunnellon did long ago.
“This day means a lot to us; it’s a day that’s long since passed…it’s a day we all deserve,” she told the Chronicle. “It was too late, but now is the time for us to celebrate.”
Several parade-goers decided to step in and join the march themselves after taking videos and photos of the emotional rally.
A caravan of cars with 20 members of the Afro-American Club of Citrus County and its officers trailed behind a uniformed and color guard unit of Crystal River High School Navy Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, who shouted military cadences throughout along the walk.
Donna Lucas, chair of the county’s African American Club board, said the Chronicle King’s name above one of Crystal River’s main roads would help unify the town.
“It instills a sense of pride and it instills a sense of community,” she said. “African Americans in Crystal River and Citrus County want to be included and want to feel needed and valued for this sign to tell us everything.”
Lucas said King’s fight for fair and equal voting practices across the United States as well as the Voting Rights Act of 1965 are impacted by today’s discrimination before and in the voting booths. She said it is up to the younger generations to take a stand against such obstacles.
“Things are starting to roll back, and so we have to instill the dream, the future and the hope,” Lucas said. “It’s good to celebrate a holiday, it’s good to have a day off, but the dream didn’t come true.”
Citrus County Supervisor of Elections Maureen “Mo” Baird set up a table at Copeland Park to encourage and help Monday’s parade participants register to vote.
Members of the Citrus County Democratic Black Caucus, Citrus County Democratic Executive Committee, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, the Unitarian Church, and a few political candidates also participated in the town’s procession for King.
Bishop Al L. Hopkins, senior pastor of the Redemption Center church in Crystal River, reminded Monday’s crowd of the power of King’s advocacy for nonviolent protests and civil disobedience, such as sit-ins and protests. boycotts, which prompted Congress to help protect civil rights.
“They understood you didn’t need a gun…all you needed was a determined spirit and a life you were willing to sacrifice,” he said. “Change will always cost something; Dr. King’s change literally paid for with his life.
“How will you honor his memory with your own life,” Hopkins added in his speech, “and what will you sacrifice to fulfill his dream?”
Hopkins also asked people to reflect and act on the challenges their neighbors face.
“For all of us to advance human progress, I must be willing to sacrifice our own way of life to better someone else’s,” he said. “It’s not enough for us to have a better way of life when we live with people who don’t live the same way of life as we do.”