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Parade organizers agree to meet with downtown merchants about complaints

A veteran organizer of Oklahoma City's annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade is promising to meet with downtown merchants who complained to the Oklahoma City Council on Tuesday the annual festivities are disrupting their businesses.
by Steve Lackmeyer Published: January 16, 2013

“This is a very sensitive issue,” Kelly said. “I'm not going to take light of it — I know when I walk to any business and they are trying to do business, I'm respectful of that business. I also know that when I'm faced with any person who is an African-American and they hear about this conversation today, they will ask ‘What did you do, what did you say about MLK?'”

Kelly called on all involved parties to discuss years of complaints about the parade's operations, and to no longer use fear to “hide behind the reality of what's there.”

“It wouldn't take a lot of compromising and sitting down with everybody to make everyone realize what is the purpose of the celebration,” Kelly said. “I think we put an undue burden on the police department and an undue burden on staff. It's due to us not taking the time to bring everybody to the table to realize the components of the parade itself.”

Milton responded that the parade organizers have been flexible over the years and staged four changes in parade routes over the past several years. He said the parade, once held at the state Capitol, was moved downtown to increase participation — an effort that paid off with annual attendance averaging 25,000 to 35,000 people.

“A lot of people think we're the reddest state in the country, and you hear ‘Are there any black people there?' type questions from people like Charles Barkley,” Milton said. “So this is good for Oklahoma City.”

Milton said his main concern is that any new parade route still incorporate historic sites in the city's civil rights movement, including the Calvary Baptist Church, which once hosted King; Bricktown, once home to the all black Douglass High School in the early to mid-20th century; Deep Deuce, the one-time black business district; and Robinson Avenue, where key lunch counter sit-in protests were staged in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

“If we have to move the route again, we will,” Milton said. “But we don't want to move it to where it doesn't involve our cultural history. … We need to iron out any issues, address problems and have a good showing.”

by Steve Lackmeyer
Business Reporter
Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter and columnist who started his career at The Oklahoman in 1990. Since then, he has won numerous awards for his coverage, which included the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the city's Metropolitan...
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