Gathered outside in the late afternoon sunshine, crowds of people waited for the start of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial March.
"We want everybody involved," said Napoleon "Donut" Williams, coordinator of the parade for the past 20 years.
More than 40 groups participated in the event Monday, ranging from the Urban League of Greater Chattanooga to a group of motorcyclists and student organizations.
The atmosphere was exuberant. People chatted amicably, children laughed and chased one another across the sidewalks and balloons and colorful banners bounced around in the hands of many of the parade participants.
Many expressed sentiments about the diversity of the day.
"It's nice to see all the different people who came out to walk," said Morgan Smith, a senior at UTC, "especially when you think about how it was when they first started. It's cool to think you're walking with people you might not have been walking with back then."
Artez McLaughlin, national achievers coordinator for the Urban League, brought a group of about 20 students to the parade.
"We're supporting the cause and all the freedoms that Martin Luther King fought for. We just had to show up," he said.
The event culminated at the Tivoli Theatre. There were a number of musical performances from local groups, including the Barger Academy of Fine Arts Chorus.
Before performing, the children huddled excitedly backstage.
"Man, it's going to be good!" said Aaliyah, 7.
"I think it's really fun," said Amari, 8. "I hope I can do it again."
The evening ended with the keynote address from Erran F. Persley of the United States Department of Commerce.
"Successful men and women build a strong foundation with the bricks that others have thrown at them," he said in his address. "And that's exactly what the civil rights generation did."
Persley went on to encourage all generations to continue working toward the dreams of those who sacrificed for the rights that many enjoy today.
"I want to inspire people to recommit themselves back to the community," Persley said. "People think the job is over and that we've reached the promised land, but there's still a long way for us to go, and I just want to make sure that we don't forget."
Earlier at Memorial Hospital, Baylor School students, hospital staff and local ministers honored the civil rights leader in their own service. The event was led by the Rev. Rozario Slack.
"I am overwhelmed by the symbolism of the day," he said. "In just a few minutes President Barack Obama will be sworn in for a second time, and I wonder what Dr. King would say or how he would feel."