By Curt Yeomans
The Jonesboro City Council cleared the way for the Clayton County Martin Luther King, Jr., Parade to return to the city, when council members voted unanimously, on Monday, to waive approximately $3,000 in fees parade organizers would have had to pay.
The parade, which has been staged in Riverdale for the last two runs, is held in connection with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday in January. Prior to the 2010 Parade, when it moved to Riverdale, it was held every year on Main Street, in Jonesboro, parade organizers and supporters said.
They explained that the parade was moved out of Jonesboro because of impending construction work on Jonesboro's Streetscape project, as well as high fees to hold the event in the city. The city is now finishing work on Streetscape's Phase I, though, and the council eliminated the fee barrier for organizers who had little money to pay for permission to hold the annual event.
Herman Turner, a member of the parade's organizing committee, said he and other parade organizers appreciated Riverdale officials providing a home for the parade over the last two years. He added, however, that parade organizers really wanted to bring the event back to the county's seat of power.
"We were happy to be where we were [in Riverdale], but the people had gotten to know the Jonesboro area," Turner said. "They had gotten to know the parade was going to be here in Jonesboro. It was easy to find. The [parade] lineup was easy for us. It was just more convenient as a whole ...
"And, this is the county seat. This is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak ... and this is where we feel it should be, so we're asking to come back."
For all intents and purposes, the Jonesboro City Council's action on Monday effectively allows the parade to permanently return to the city, beginning in 2012. Jonesboro Mayor Luther Maddox said the council's vote placed the Martin Luther King, Jr., Parade on a short list of only three parades that will not have to pay the city's parade fee in the future.
The other two parades, he noted, are the Jonesboro Masonic Lodge's Annual Fourth of July Parade, and the Arts Clayton Holidays at Home parade, which has not been held since 2008. Maddox said the MLK Parade belongs in Jonesboro, since it (Jonesboro) is the home of county government.
"It's the county seat, and we do it for the county," Maddox said. He then added, "it's a low-traffic day [because] it's always on a Monday, and people are off work, what have you, and it doesn't disrupt us, and the parade route they use doesn't disrupt a whole lot of activities in the city, so it's good to have it."
Turner said the event was not quite the same in Riverdale as it was in Jonesboro. He explained that the parade had to held on a Saturday in Riverdale, and crowds were not as thick as they were in Jonesboro. Also, he said, when the parade was held in Jonesboro, it was held on the Monday that is celebrated as the Martin Luther King, Jr., Holiday. The return to Jonesboro will bring a return to the Monday date, he added.
"They [parade watchers] didn't come out for some reason [in Riverdale]," Turner said. "The attendance, or participation, as far as the sidelines, wasn't as great as it was here in Jonesboro."
Turner explained that sidewalks in Jonesboro would be packed with parade watchers. In Riverdale, he added, "There was no comparison" to the attendance in Jonesboro.
Rev. Arthur Powell, president of the Association of Christian Ministers of Clayton County, said the difference in attendance between Jonesboro and Riverdale had to do, at least partially, with the parade routes in each city. The Association of Christian Ministers is a supporter of the parade, and met with Jonesboro officials to work on bringing it back to the city, Powell said.
He said the parade route in Riverdale was located on business-heavy Ga. Hwy. 85. By contrast, the route in Jonesboro was located on McDonough Road and Main Street, which are lined with neighborhoods in some spots, and only a few short blocks from neighborhoods in other parts.
Former Jonesboro City Councilman Rick Yonce said the parade should have been given more of a chance outside of Jonesboro before it returned to the city. Yonce, who lost a re-election bid in 2009, said an agreement had been reached in 2009 for Jonesboro, Riverdale, Morrow, and Forest Park to rotate hosting duties for the parade, so Jonesboro would not have to handle it every year.
"They held it in Riverdale twice," Yonce said. "Morrow never got a chance to host it. Forest Park never got a chance to host it. It might have done well up there."
Maddox said Jonesboro will be relieved of much of the burden for hosting the parade in the future, though, because the Clayton County Sheriff's Office and the Clayton County Police Department have agreed to help the city with traffic control, and clean-up efforts during the parade.
"We don't figure it will cost us any money," Maddox said.