The San Diego chapter of the Black Panther Party marched in the annual Martin Luther King Parade. Photo by Chris Stone
The San Diego chapter of the Black Panther Party marched in its first Martin Luther King Parade. Photo by Chris Stone

Even with Black Panthers taking part for the first time, it was far more a parade than a protest.

The San Diego Community College District float showed a picture of Dr. King with the words “Let Freedom Ring” on the other side. Photo by Chris Stone

Sunday’s 37th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Parade had only a handful of units commenting on the Donald Trump presidency, five days away.

Only 8 percent of African-American voters supported the Republican on Election Day.

A day before the slain civil right’s leader’s national holiday, thousands watched school and civic groups with floats and bands head south down Harbor Drive toward Seaport Village.

Perhaps the most outspoken of the 96 parade units were members of San Diego Showing up for Racial Justice, holding Black Lives Matter placards, with white marchers holding signs reading: “WHITE SILENCE = WHITE VIOLENCE.”

Wearing a veil, one member bore a shirt saying: “Emmett sTill,” a reference to the black teenager Emmett Till whose Mississippi lynching in 1955 was a flashpoint in the nation’s civil rights awakening.

A spectator holds a sign showing her support for Rep. John Lewis D-Ga., who called Donald Trump an illegitimate president. Photo by Chris Stone

A white parade-goer held a green sign saying: “I AM WITH HON. JOHN LEWIS,” whose recent comment that he considers Trump an “illegitimate president” sparked controversy.

Politicians waving to crowds included Assembly members Todd Gloria and Shirley Weber, state Sen. Toni Atkins and Rep. Susan Davis. Myrtle Cole was the only San Diego City Council member in the parade.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer was absent, but a smiling Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman and county Sheriff Bill Gore walked the route with other brass.

Grand marshal was John E. Warren, co-publisher of San Diego’s Voice & Viewpoint newspaper, in its 56th year.

Isaiah Love of Santa Fe Christian School and Bryanna Shaw of Francis Parker High School were chosen king and queen of the event. Their court had Rayonna Davis of Gompers Preparatory Academy, Olivia Lewis of Academy of Our Lady of Peace, Caszmani Walker of Crawford High and Bryan Shaw of Parker.

Member of San Diego Showing up for Racial Justice group carried signs promoting their issues. Photo by Chris Stone

The parade, again coordinated by the Zeta Sigma Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., began after Lewis Sheffield recited from memory King’s 1,670-word “I have a dream speech” of 1963. There were 98 entrance in the parade.

The first-place winners were Serra High School, band; San Diego Community College District, float; Sherry’s Gotta Dance, drill/step team; San Diego State University, educational unit; and Links Achievers, marching unit. (See complete list.)

About a dozen local Black Panther Party members marched, having been asked on Facebook: “Please make sure that on the Day of the Event that you are wearing all Black.” This year marks its 50th in San Diego.

“The Panthers didn’t get to San Diego until late 1968, even though the party was formed in 1966,” UC San Diego’s Mychal Odom told The San Diego Union-Tribune last February. “The first black power group formed in San Diego was the Afro-American Association.”

Announcer Tayari Howard, president and CEO of Global Educational Media Network, said it was the first local MLK Parade appearance by the Black Panthers.

In the parade, Panthers including children reprised their 1960s-era raised fist salute.

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