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MLK parades and gatherings in Columbia and Charleston go virtual again

Drum Corps.jpg

Kelwin Frierson with the Kingstree High School Drumline performs during the annual parade celebrating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan. 20, 2020. File/Staff

Two high-profile Martin Luther King Jr. Day events are going virtual in Charleston and Columbia this year as a wave of COVID-19 infections from the omicron variant sweep South Carolina.

The marquee Columbia event — King Day at the Dome, held at the S.C. Statehouse — will be put on virtually for the second year in a row, the South Carolina chapter of the NAACP confirmed to The Post and Courier on Monday. 

More than 2,500 individuals convened at the Statehouse grounds during the last in-person King Day at the Dome, in 2020, which featured appearances by top Democratic contenders for president.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic prompted organizers to host the rally virtually the following year for the first time in the event's 21-year history. 

The annual rally began in 2000 as a reaction to the Confederate flag being flown atop the Capitol dome. In the years to follow, King Day at the Dome helped promote a 15-year tourism boycott of the state until the flag was removed entirely after lawmakers reached a compromise that placed the flag in a prominent location on the Statehouse grounds.

In the years since the boycott ended, the event has become best known not only as an homage to King and his work, but as a critical outreach opportunity for national politicians to Black voters in the South. In 2020, eight  Democratic candidates for president spoke at the event or appeared at the preceding faith service, traditionally held at nearby Zion Baptist Church. 

This year's event will take place Jan. 17, beginning at 10 a.m. The keynote speaker will be Leon Russell, chairman of the NAACP’s national board of directors. Further details will be released closer to the event date, NAACP officials said. 

The Charleston Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade has also been organized as a virtual event. The YWCA of Charleston, organizers of the parade, filmed a parade route starting from The Citadel and traveling around Hampton Park on Dec. 18.

The broadcast will be aired on WCBD Channel 2 at noon Jan. 17.

“We want to thank the city of Charleston and WCBD for helping us recreate a parade and pay tribute to Dr. King even in these uncertain times,” Greater Charleston YWCA Executive Director LaVanda Brown said.

Kicking off the year, Charleston’s annual Emancipation Proclamation Parade was held in person on New Year’s Day, drawing crowds downtown. The 2022 event marked the 156th year the parade was held. It was held virtually last year due to COVID-19.

Reach Emma Whalen at 843-708-5837. Follow her on Twitter @_emma_whalen. 

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