Andrew Dys

Peace, love, unity: Last surviving founder of state's oldest MLK parade in York

The floats and the bands and the people of all races and religions will march and drive and step and saunter down Congress Street in York on Saturday for the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. parade.

One man will have the widest smile.

Mozel Neely, now 80 years old, is the last survivor of a trio, with Isaac “Ike” Wright and Edward Rawlinson, who in 1981 created what now is South Carolina’s oldest continuous MLK parade. There wasn’t one float in the first parade.

“That first year we had but one trailer, brought from Wright’s funeral home,” Neely said. “We rigged it up with a picture of Dr. King, and we were so proud of our parade.”

Yet the men believed in 1981, and Neely still believes, that King’s message of brotherhood and love, unity and community among all people is reason for celebration.

“We said then when we started the parade that the parade was not about color, it was about peace and love and unity,” Neely said. “It still is that way. Even more so, now.”

Neely will be honored in this year's parade, and ride in style -- a fancy car.

York’s parade, sponsored by the western York County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, will feature school bands from as close as York and Clover and York Prep, and as far as Winnsboro and Columbia. There will be as many floats as people want to bring.

“We have room for everybody,” said Frederic Campbell, parade chairman. “That’s what this parade is about. We want everyone to be a part of a community that loves one another.”

York’s parade organizers say the event has always tried to bring people together, amid other events, politics and racial strife. South Carolina was the last state to recognize the King holiday -- the parade went on anyway.

The parade started after a movement to create a federal holiday in the late 1970s and early 1980s, which took years to happen. Legislation designating the holiday was passed in 1983. York County was one of the last in South Carolina to make it a county holiday.

South Carolina’s racial problems have, for the past two years, been national news. Dylann Roof, the unapologetic white supremacist who killed nine black churchgoers in Charleston in June 2015, was sentenced to death on federal charges earlier this week. Before that was the trial of the white Charleston-area law enforcement officer who shot an unarmed black man in the back.

Before that in 2015 was the fallout from the Roof shooting, when South Carolina took down the Confederate Flag from the statehouse grounds.

But events such as York’s MLK parade show the best of the human heart, said Steve Love, president of the western York County NAACP.

“This parade is York County’s Martin Luther King Jr. Parade,” Love said. “It is for all people. It is not the NAACP parade. It is the people’s parade. This parade features everyone and shows Dr. King’s message of equality through the shared action of us all.”

There is a word for what Neely and his friends started in 1981 and will continue this weekend. A parade where all march together in a scene that Martin Luther King spoke of in his famous “I Have a Dream”speech.

That word is America.

Want to go?

The Martin Luther King Jr. parade is at 1 p.m. Jan. 14 in York. The parade route runs south on Congress Street in downtown, from Madison Street to the old Jefferson school ball field.

Details: 704-813-6617 or email nflproductions101@gmail.com.

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