Community parade promotes tolerance, acceptance during MLK weekend

First-ever CARE parade hosted on Saturday in Lexington to honor Martin Luther King Jr.


On a weekend that honors both Confederate war generals and a civil rights activist, two separate groups occupied the streets of Lexington in a clash of heritage and culture.

This year, a parade sponsored by Community Anti-Racism Education was held on the Saturday of Martin Luther King weekend – a spot traditionally reserved for the Lee-Jackson parade. CARE’s parade on Jan. 14 was the first of its kind to honor Martin Luther King Jr. in Lexington.

Marchers in the new Saturday parade held signs that called for universal respect and equality for all – saying that the city has a place for those of all races, backgrounds and sexual orientations. The parade began with a group signing of “We Shall Overcome,” an anthem of the civil rights movement.

“Everyone has become so polarized that I think we need to come together as community right now and talk about these controversial issues,” Rachel Reibach, ’18, who marched in the CARE parade, said.

In previous years, the weekend that celebrates Lee-Jackson Day and Martin Luther King Jr. day was dominated by events that honored the confederate generals. Members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans group have been known to march with battle flags and hold events in honor of the state holiday, held on Jan. 13 this year.

However, last spring CARE applied for a permit for its own parade that would displace the annual one held by pro-Confederate groups. Despite protests from opposing groups, CARE received the permit to march through downtown on Jan. 14.

“It’s nice to have an alternative to Lee-Jackson day, which I’ve witnessed in Lexington for 19 years,” Sarah Anne Troise, ’19, who participated in CARE’s parade, said. “I really wanted to be here to celebrate diversity.”

The Virginia Flaggers, the group that traditionally applies for a parade permit for Lee-Jackson celebrations, countered CARE’s request and asked to march on Martin Luther King, Jr. day itself. After asking for CARE to trade parade dates with them, the Flaggers instead moved their parade to Sunday – between the two conflicting holidays.

For some, the new focus on Martin Luther King, Jr. during the contentious weekend will help counter Lexington’s past history as a Confederate stronghold.

“Lexington has a history of discrimination and deep roots in the Confederacy,” Sarah Stovall, who marched in the parade, said. “[CARE’s] parade is meant to speak out against some of the racism and divisiveness we’ve seen.”

Though recognizing the city’s past, others foresee a different vision of Lexington’s reputation for the future – as a place that values change and inclusiveness.

“As a parade marshal [for CARE], I went out canvassing the area and inviting neighbors to march with us,” Melina Bell, an associate professor of philosophy and law, said. “I wanted to express that Lexington has a presence as a welcoming and diverse community in the present and for the future.”