A man holds a sign at the 2020 Martin Luther King, Jr Day parade downtown.

Image: Daniel Kramer

Like many other time-honored traditions, the 43rd Annual Martin Luther King, Jr Parade, hosted by the Black Heritage Society and the City of Houston, will be going virtual this time around.

The Black Heritage Society always knew they'd find some way to have the parade in the midst of the pandemic. After all the group has been holding this event ever since it hosted its first MLK parade on January 21, 1978, a decade after the civil rights activist was assassinated. That first parade was commissioned by Martin Luther King, Sr, who also served as the grand marshal that year.

This year’s celebration, the theme of which is “Truth, Love and Justice,” will still include a march of sorts on January 18, 2021. Organizations that wish to participate, like marching bands, dance teams, and military and ROTC groups, can submit video entries for the virtual parade, which will be broadcasted online for free.

“This year, the “Original” Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Parade will look a little different due to the pandemic, but we are prepared to unite all Houstonians in celebration of Dr. King’s life and legacy,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a release. “The virtual experience will allow us to reach more people in Houston and across the nation. I encourage organizations to submit their creative entries to help maintain the tradition of celebrating with a parade.”

There will also be a heavy emphasis on service during the 2021 event. During the virtual parade, the Black Heritage Society is hosting a Parade of Giving to support those who’ve been heavily impacted by the pandemic. Folks can drop off basic essential items at a drive-thru donation site at MacGregor Park (5225 Calhoun Rd), which will then be distributed by local nonprofit organizations the World Youth Foundation and St. John’s Downtown.

“We want to inspire viewers to be change agents and do their part to contribute to a more equitable world, especially during these difficult times,’” said Sylvester Brown, the Black Heritage Society’s executive director. 

More information, including the 2021 grand marshal and the lineup of community projects, will be announced at a later date.

Houston’s other parade dedicated to the Civil Rights hero, the MLK Grande Parade, has not yet announced plans for its 27th annual event. Keep up with news for this parade here.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Parade. 10 a.m. to noon Jan 18. online. More information at originalmlkparade.org.

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