A North St. Louis parade at 120 (May 18)

May 14, 2008

The tradition of the May Day parade started in 1909 or 1910, and within a dozen years it was an annual event. It’s commonly known as the Annie Malone parade, and it’s huge — the second-largest African-American parade in the U.S., with 100,000 spectators and hundreds of participants, including (my favorite!) marching bands, floats and cars. When the parade took place in North St. Louis, mom-and-pop vendors would line the route selling hot dogs cooked over charcoal on portable grills. When the route moved into downtown, there was a bit of an outcry that some of the home-cooked flavor would be lost.

Based on the turnout in subsequent years, though, it doesn’t really matter where this parade takes place — it’s all about having a good time and raising money for the Annie Malone Children and Family Service Center. The upside to the downtown location is that most of us have already viewed at least one parade there and have our favorite spots staked out along the route (in this case, it’s along Market Street from 20th to 7th streets). We prefer to park near the stadium, but this year there’s a baseball game at 1:15 p.m., so things will be hoppin’ and we might have to rework our system. The parade steps off at 1 p.m. on Sunday (May 18 ).

Aside from the parade, there two other May Day weekend activities to note: a gospel music celebration on Saturday (May 17) at 6 p.m. at Antioch Baptist Church, and a two-hour blues music festival on Sunday (May 18 ) following the parade at around 4 p.m. The entertainment for the Bluesfest is being coordinated by Cafe Soul, a very popular monthly open mic event. Winners of its own in-house contest will perform along with the national winner of the McDonald’s R&B Soulsearch. The face of Cafe Soul, CoCo Soul, will MC — and according to the online press release, will also open the mic to anyone with a mind to perform at the festival. Others scheduled to appear include local favorites Kim Massey, Lamar Harris, True Lyric, Slky Sol, and poet Mocha Latte.

The weather should be cool but nice, which can only contribute to the festive atmosphere. And with the sad news out of North St. Louis this past week, people will be looking to lift their spirits.

A note from May 19:  In news reports on this event, you might have heard/read that three gunshots were fired along the route.  That happened about a block from where we were, and we didn’t hear them, although we did see a few police officers running in that direction.  A few groups of people high-tailed it away, mostly families but also some white teenage kids, one of whom was giddily announcing to his cell phone, “We just saw someone get shot so we’re out of here!”  However, no one was actually injured — the teenage perpetrator fired into the air and was caught soon after.  The vast majority of the crowd stayed calm, realizing that the lack of an ambulance meant that no one had in fact been shot, something which the police confirmed to those of us along the route as we waited for the parade to resume.

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