A parade celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day was canceled in Washington, D.C. Monday, but Loudoun County residents endured the 21 degrees weather to march in downtown Leesburg.
They gathered in front of the courthouse, many of them stamping their feet and jumping up and down to warm up prior to the parade. The Rev. Reginald A. Early of the Willisville Chapel United Methodist Church in Upperville opened the festivities with a prayer just before members of the NAACP and drummers from the Loudoun County High School marching band led the parade.
Singing “We Shall Overcome,” the participants marched to the Douglass Community Center, which used to be an all-black school.
Harold Looney of Sterling reminisced. “I was born 40 miles east of Montgomery,” he said. “I only met him one time, but he was around all the time at the churches.”
He pointed to the importance of having a day to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.. “It’s the greatest thing that could have happened to black America,” he said.
David Wilson, second vice president of the Loudoun County chapter of the NAACP, recalled the day King was slain. “I was seven years old. I was out playing. It was an Indian Summer Day so me and some other kids were … jumping in the local pond.”
He recalled cutting his knee so badly that he did not want to tell his parents. “I bandaged the knee and went home to find the news on. They were talking about Martin Luther King being killed and the legacy he left. I learned all about him that day, and since then I have loved Martin Luther King and his works.”
Wilson said the civil rights leader was a great influence on him. “He really instilled the importance of community service in me," he said.
Janet Flowers, a Sterling mother, said she grew up in the ‘60s, and it was great now to be “part of something I couldn’t be when I was little.” She said she would use the event to teach her children about their heritage.
Looney said he was disappointed that more elected officials, particularly county supervisors, had not marched in the parade. The gathering would have given African Americans an opportunity to discuss issues with the politicians. “We don’t know each other,” he said, referring Loudoun’s leaders. “There are too few of us, less than 10 percent of us" in the county.