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MLK DAY: History of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. parade in Las Vegas

MLK Parade 1982
MLK Parade Bat car
MLK parade drill team
Posted at 6:46 PM, Jan 17, 2021

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — The first Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. parade was held in Las Vegas back in 1982 on Jackson Avenue.

Wendell P. Williams, the founder of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. committee, says the first parade only had 13 entries.

"It was a really sad situation of a parade, it almost looked like a funeral procession," Williams said.

Dr. King was Williams' hero growing up in St. Joseph, Louisiana.

But when Williams eventually moved to Las Vegas he noticed Dr. King's legacy was not as prominent in the community.

So, he made a plan to pay homage every year to the Civil Rights leader in a special way.

In 1981, Williams founded the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Committee.

"We started with a very small idea that we were able to grow into a vision," said Nedra Cooper, activist and founding member of the committee.

Williams says the parade has grown to be one of the largest in Nevada.

As the years grew the parade moved and began at the intersection of Fourth Street and Gass Avenue.

In 2020, more than 30,000 people attended the 38th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. parade in downtown Las Vegas.

"I don't view the value with length, I value the essence of the parade with who's in it and how it represents the entire community," Williams said.

For the first time in its 39 year history, the MLK parade will not be starting at Fourth Street in Downtown Las Vegas due to the coronavirus pandemic.

RELATED: Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Parade will go virtual in 2021

But the dream must live on, so the committee is holding a virtual event.

"This event will be produced by technology students, high school students and college students. We will be going through pictures and videos from last 38 years," Williams said.

To watch the livestream of the Las Vegas Martin Luther King Jr. Day virtual parade at 10 a.m. on Jan. 18 you can visit King Week Las Vegas.