Martin Luther King Jr. Day marked by marade -- and official holiday

Editor's note: Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a federal holiday that got its start here in Colorado. The Westword office is closed, but Latest Word will be posting occasional updates. Watch for our full roster of stories to return tomorrow.

The country's largest parade in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. will kick off this morning by the MLK memorial in City Park in Denver, Colorado, a mid-sized city with a small black population, but a big record of fighting for equality. Wilma Webb, then a state legislator, was instrumental in pushing to make MLK Day a holiday in this state; Colorado approved her proposal in 1984, two years before the first official national celebration on January 20, 1986.

In 1991, Wilma Webb's husband, Wellington, became Denver's first black mayor. And in August 2008, on the fortieth anniversary of King's "I Have a Dream" speech, Barack Obama made his acceptance speech as the Democratic candidate for President of the United States.

When this city's annual Marade kicks off at 9 a.m. today in City Park, there will be history in every step. Governor John Hickenlooper won't be in the lineup, though: He'll be in Washington, D.C., for the historic inauguration of Obama, the country's first African-American president, on MLK Day -- but Denver's parade participants will watch the inauguration speech before heading out to Civic Center. And the city's second black African American mayor, Michael Hancock, will be out in front.

And there will plenty of other people -- including protesters. The Colorado Progressive Coalition and other community members who've experienced racial profiling and violence at the hands of law enforcement -- including Alex Landau, whose case was on the cover of Westword two years ago -- will march with a common message that demands changes in Denver's law enforcement discipline system. And after the Marade, CPC, along with Café Cultura, will host "The Dream Continues," a community celebration at the Mercury Cafe, 2199 California Street at 3 p.m. From our archives: Read "Alex Landau was pulled over for making an illegal left turn and beaten bloody."

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