Kingdom Day Parade celebrates civil rights leader

By Darlene Donloe

Contributing Writer

SOUTH LOS ANGELES — The 39th annual Kingdom Day Parade, held in honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., will take place Jan. 15, the late civil rights leader’s actual birthday.

The theme of this year’s parade, which celebrates the life and legacy of King, is “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop, Going To The Promised Land.”

Once again, the three-mile, multi-cultural event will wind through the heart of South Los Angeles — traveling west from its starting point on Western Avenue at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, and then south on Crenshaw Boulevard to Leimert Park, where a freedom festival will take place until 5 p.m.

Along the route, spectators will see marching bands, exotic and antique cars, elaborate floats, equestrian units, competitive marching bands, choirs, worldwide musical and dance performance units, and other surprises.

Once again, the parade, which boasts an average of 200,000 on-site attendees, takes place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and will be televised live on ABC7 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The parade has been broadcast live for the past 38 years. For the past 13 years, organizers said the viewing audience has been 2.4 million.

County Supervisor Holly J Mitchell will be the grand marshal and Princess Tiana from the Walt Disney Animation film, “Princess and the Frog,” and the Disney characters Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse are the honorary grand marshals.

Overseeing the parade for the last 13 years is Adrian Dove, the chairman and executive producer of the Kingdom Day Parade, who affectionately calls it “The world’s longest and largest running life celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.”

“This year I want to point out the key points in Dr. King’s life,” said Dove, who, at the age of 89, will step down from his role after this year. “I want to go out with a bang. This year, instead of opening the parade with the ‘Star Spangled Banner,’ we will open it with Ray Charles’ version of ‘America the Beautiful.’”

Dove, chairman of the California branch of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE-CA), which hosts the parade each year, said he wants this year’s parade to be a visual spectacle.

“I want to present five major points in Dr. King’s life,” said Dove, who knew and marched with King during the civil rights movement. “I want a live story of King. I want to highlight the Rosa Parks bus and somehow include the Bayard Rustin movie to let everyone know how Dr. King was introduced to the notion of non-violence and the removal of the use of guns by Rustin. I’d also like a hologram of Dr. King’s speech, a depiction of the garbage workers strike in Memphis, and I’d like to project the Bobby Kennedy video announcing Dr. King’s death on the side of a truck. I also want to end it by showing where Dr. King was killed. I want to have some Teamsters there.”

This year’s parade will be slightly different. It will include a parade king and queen rather than just a queen as in previous years. Organizers said this element of the parade, which keeps with the overall mission of uplifting local youth and promoting their future success, will still be dedicated to the development of future youth leadership involving enthusiastic, broad-scale participation of community organizations, schools, churches and small, medium and large businesses with the common goal of continuing the peaceful revolution ignited by King.

Dove said this year’s king and queen each will receive $5,000 scholarships.

“I remember the spirit of the man when I was in his presence,” said Dove, who has been married to his wife, Barbara, since 1956, and has two daughters. “It was palpable. I met him at 2nd Baptist Church. I worked for him briefly in 1965. I went to Alabama and South Carolina. We were doing voter registration. I remember a meeting I was going to have with King, but then I got that fateful phone call that Dr. King had been killed. We lost a true leader.”

Dove said King is “more relevant today than when he was still here”.

“Polarization is stronger now than it was then,” said Dove, a Dallas native. “There is more extremism in the air. He moved us far away from where we would have been. I really want this parade to be special. I want it to be a show.”

One of the reasons Dove wants the Kingdom Day Parade to be successful each year has to do with King’s dream.

“His dream has not been achieved,” said Dove, who has run the parade for 13 years. “That’s why we’re doing this parade. The impact of what he did has changed everything.” 

The Kingdom Day Parade was founded 39 years ago in 1985 by the late Larry Grant, a retired military officer and banker in San Diego.

Several years later he relocated the parade to South Los Angeles where he was joined by Gen. Celes King III and Adrian Dove, who were then serving as CORE-CA’s chairman and president respectively.

The parade’s transfer of location from San Diego to Los Angeles also coincided with the street renaming of Martin Luther King Boulevard from its previous name Santa Barbara Avenue.

Dove, then president of CORE-CA, initially served as financial management officer. He had extensive experience as a senior budget examiner during his many years in the White House Office of Management and Budget and as a minority business sevelopment executive assistant and program developer under then-Mayor Tom Bradley.

Dove joined Celes King to bring in parade sponsors, until King’s death in 2003.

Dove then continued to work on the parade with founder Larry Grant, eventually becoming the head of the organizing sponsor of the Kingdom Day Parade.

When Grant died in 2012, Dove continued the role of chairman of CORE-CA and as chairman of the Kingdom Day Parade.

He made several changes, including re-launching the exclusive multi-year contract with ABC 7, expanding sponsorship and recruiting an in-house professional staff.

“I truly have a passion for this job,” said Dove, who receives no compensation for his work on the parade. “I have a lot of creativity. I want this parade to be successful. Dr. King deserves it.”

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was internationally known for his civil rights work, which included organizing marches, a series of nonviolent protests against discrimination, and, of course, the Montgomery Boycott in 1955.

He also his known for his iconic, “I Have A Dream” speech, which he delivered at the March on Washington in August 1963.

On April 4, 1968, while in Memphis, Tennessee, to support a sanitation workers’ strike, he was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel. He was 39.

A Baptist minister, political philosopher and activist, King, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October 1964, and posthumously received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal.

On Nov. 2, 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed the King Holiday Bill into law, designating the third Monday in January a federal holiday in observance of King.

Today the MLK holiday is the only federal holiday designated as a national day of service to encourage all Americans to volunteer and improve their communities.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial was erected in Washington, D.C. in 2011, with a sculpture and inscription from his “I Have a Dream” speech that reads, “Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”

Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at