Lexington, UK celebrate MLK Day with downtown march and program


Terry Allen, organizer of the march, marches in front of the old Lexington courthouse during the Martin Luther King Jr. commemorative march on Monday, January 15, 2018. In October 2017, two confederate statues were removed from the old courthouse grounds after Lexington’s long debate about their location. Photo by Rick Childress | Staff

Rick Childress

Almost a full year after President Donald Trump was inaugurated, amid growing fears of alt-right protests and after Confederate statues were removed from the old Lexington Courthouse, thousands of marchers paraded through downtown to celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

A column of marchers that spanned a dozen city blocks funneled into a large auditorium inside the Lexington Convention Center, where Lexington Mayor Jim Gray told the crowd via video that the time to stand up to hatred and bigotry is “all the time.”

Gray said that the old courthouse is “now a place that welcomes everyone” after the removal of the statues.

Along with Gray, Attorney General Andy Beshear, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes and UK President Eli Capilouto all marched.

Ashley C. Smith, the master of ceremony for the event, said that “the goal is to inspire and upset you.” She mentioned that 2018, 50 years after MLK’s assassination, the community faces challenges that are “more daunting,” and that “our own democracy is at risk.”

The program, titled Dr. King’s Vision in an Age of Betrayal, featured many members of the central Kentucky community and guest speaker, Tim Wise, a prominent anti-racist author.

Terry Allen, the organizer of the march, said that since its inception on UK’s campus in the ’60’s, the march was about MLK and the values for which he stood.

“We have maintained the integrity of these events, of the march since day one,” Allen said. “And that will not change. We have seen over the years many issues come and go. But as far as this event is concerned, we are very narrowly focused on commemorating the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.”

The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government and UK collaborated as the two main sponsors for the event, Allen said. Several smaller groups marched and sponsored the event—many of those groups were composed of UK students.

Chandler Fryerson, a freshman representative on the UK NAACP, said the life of King had an immense impact on his life.

“There’s still a lot of change that is necessary for us as a nation,” he said. “If we want to be successful and we want to continue on to have equal rights for everybody, there has to be a change in the atmosphere.”

Nicole Funk, a junior with the Alpha Gamma Delta sorority who said she marches every year, said the MLK march is good way to celebrate and encourage positive social change.

“I think that it’s important to celebrate the progress that we’ve had over the years and having more unity in our city,” Funk said. “But also the fact that we still have a lot of work to do. I think it’s important recognize Dr. King and all the efforts that came out of the civil rights movement.”