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After complaints, Pugh restores Baltimore's MLK Day parade

Madison Smith, captain of the Bratz Dolls unit in the Baltimore Twilighters Marching Band, participates in January's Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade.
Madison Smith, captain of the Bratz Dolls unit in the Baltimore Twilighters Marching Band, participates in January's Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade.(Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun)

After fielding complaints from community members, Mayor Catherine Pugh said Tuesday she was reversing a plan to replace next month’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade with a day of service.

“We heard from people. We’ll do the parade and the day of service,” she said. “People want to do both.”

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Pugh had previously said she was planning to cancel the long-running parade to replace it with a day of service, which she felt better honored King’s legacy.

But the announcement was quickly criticized by some who saw the mayor taking away a beloved tradition. Nearly 1,400 people signed an online petition Tuesday asking for the parade to be restored.

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“This is a Baltimore City tradition!!” one person wrote.

“I believe traditions and festivals that appeal to black Baltimoreans are being targeted, and it’s likely because of revenue,” wrote another.

Hassan Giordano, the former criminal justice chairman of the local NAACP and a candidate for Circuit Court clerk, pledged to organize a rally at City Hall in support of restoring the parade.

“After I saw she canceled this, it upset me personally,” Giordano said, adding that he has attended the parade for years with his children. “People in the black community are livid. Marching bands go all year getting ready for this parade. Though it’s symbolic, it’s something that brings pride and joy to our city. We’re telling her to reinstate the parade.”

Pugh had argued that the long-running parade was good for its time, but she wanted to change the message of the day.

“Every leader has an opportunity to shape what they would like to see,” she said.

Instead of marching bands parading down Martin Luther King Boulevard, Pugh had said she planned for bands to compete at Morgan State University in a battle of the band competition that would name a “drummer for justice.” Those in the audience would have been encouraged to volunteer at a variety of community organizations, she said.

But Pugh said late Tuesday the battle of the bands would not occur now that plans for the parade were restored. She said that competition could occur later this year.

Pugh initially announced the change on the city’s website.

“To honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Monday, January 15, 2018, Mayor Catherine E. Pugh will host the inaugural Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service,” the site stated. “This year, the City of Baltimore welcomes residents to emulate Dr. King’s leadership and compassion for others by volunteering in their communities. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a public servant who devoted his life to the advancement of civil rights and equality. Building on this momentum, Baltimore begins a new tradition to honor this commitment and to encourage community-based organizations to organize and submit service projects that welcome volunteers of all-ages.”

Earlier this year, Pugh scaled back the city’s African-American festival, AFRAM, after a 40-year run that drew hundreds of thousands many years. She held a smaller event at Druid Hill Park this year.

“People are upset and rightfully so just like they are with AFRAM,” said City Councilman Brandon Scott said earlier Tuesday. “Every year we do a parade, but we also do day-of-service stuff. Black folks in Baltimore feel their stuff is under attack. We have all these great cultural things. Why are these the two things picked to be downsized or eliminated? We can do both. We can have a parade and a day of service.”

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