Martin Luther King Jr. Day this year falls on the slain civil rights leader’s actual birthday, Jan. 15. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference and other local nonprofits offer a variety of events to honor the transformative leader.
A parade through Central City is the centerpiece of the New Orleans MLK Day. R.E.A.L. (Recreating the Environmental Ability to Live) has been hosting this event in New Orleans for 37 years.
All are invited to join the march and to bring signs on Monday, Jan. 15. It begins at 10 a.m. from A.L. Davis Park, LaSalle and Third streets, the site of a pivotal civil rights march in 1963. Bands and dance troupes from local schools will join the procession.
The march also includes stops to honor local civil rights history. The first is the New Zion Baptist Church, where the SCLC was founded in 1957. The parade will also stop on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, where a commemorative statue was erected in 1976.
The abstract sculpture designed Frank Hayden, a former student at Xavier University and professor at Southern University, symbolizes the struggle for social justice and civil rights. Inside the sculpture are excerpts from King’s speeches as well as an opening in the back to represent the bullet that ended King’s life.
The march will proceed up MLK Boulevard to the city’s Martin Luther King Jr. Monument on the Claiborne Avenue neutral ground. Installed in 1981 and created by sculptor Nancy Johnson, the life-size bronze bust of King sits atop a granite pedestal.
A wreath-laying ceremony will be held at the monument.
A.L. Davis Park, where the parade begins, is another significant spot in civil rights history. It was called Shakespeare Park when more than 10,000 New Orleanians gathered there on Sept. 30, 1963, to march to City Hall and demand an end to enforced racial segregation. The Rev. A.L. Davis — an SCLC founder along with King — was among the local activists, as was Oretha Castle Haley of CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) and Ernest “Dutch” Morial of the NAACP.
Art exhibit, historical marker
The National Conference of Artists’ annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Art Exhibition opens Saturday (Jan. 13) and runs through Feb. 29. This year’s exhibit, “An Experiment in Love,” will be held at Ashé Gallery, 1712 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., and Stella Jones Gallery, 201 St. Charles Ave. For more information, visit nolamlkexhibit.org.
The SCLC New Orleans Chapter kicked off the MLK Day events Friday (Jan. 5) with a ceremony dedicating a historical marker honoring Coretta Scott King, who fought for the holiday and kept her husband’s legacy going. The plaque also honors SCLC and others who petitioned, demonstrated and marched to achieve a day of recognition for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
The marker is now permanently displayed on the South Claiborne Avenue neutral ground at Jackson Avenue.
Celebrated annually on the third Monday in January, MLK Day became a federal holiday in 1983. In Louisiana, it was named an official state holiday in 2004.
Day of Service
MLK Day is the only national holiday that includes a Day of Service. As King stated in 1957: “Life’s most urgent and persistent question is: What are you doing for others?” Here are a few of the opportunities for service in New Orleans.
Archdiocese of New Orleans: For information on the “Day ON, Not OFF” service event, call the Office of Black Catholic Ministries at 504-861-6207.
City Park: City Park’s Day of Service includes stadium, fence and bayou shoreline cleanup; a horticulture project; painting; and trail mulching. It takes place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Visit the park’s volunteer hub to register.
Friends of Lafitte Greenway: Volunteers will mulch trees, pick up litter and more to help maintain the trail. The Day of Service takes place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Meet at 501 N. Galvez and wear comfortable clothing and sun protection. RSVP here.
United Way: Volunteers can register as an individual or a team to volunteer from 9 a.m. to noon on MLK Day. Preregister here by Friday (Jan. 12). T-shirts and a light lunch will be provided.
The United Way volunteer crews will make playground and facility improvements at Marrero Middle School. Roles include an extreme library makeover, painting locker rooms, striping the basketball court, building outdoor cafeteria seating and more.
In addition to these events, the Ogden Museum offers free admission and special kid-friendly activities in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Families can enjoy a museum-wide social justice scavenger hunt, art activities, community partner tables, entertainment, a food truck and more. Admission is free from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., but the majority of art activities and performances will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. See here for details.