Retired Chattanooga garbage worker and street cleaner Charles Haywood has marched for 41 years in the Unity Group's M.L. King Day Memorial March.
"Every one in public works should be here. That's why the man got killed," Haywood said referring to Dr. Martin Luther King's April 1968 assassination. King was killed the day after he delivered his "I've Been to the Mountain Top" speech to striking sanitation workers in Memphis.
Haywood, 72, was among hundreds of marchers participating in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration in Chattanooga.
"If I'm still living, I'll be here next year, too -- rain, sleet or snow," Haywood said.
King stood at the forefront of the 1955 Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott that led to the end of segregated seating on public buses. He led the March on Washington for civil and economic rights where he gave his "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963. And he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.
"He was great for what he did for the black race," said Allan Robinson Sr. "We were able to go places that we couldn't get into, and he made it so black people could vote."
Augusto Rivera, of Honduras, attended the march for the first time Monday.
"King wasn't trying to free a color, he was trying to make people aware of human rights and the indignities suffered by other human beings," he said.
Students at Baylor School honored King's legacy of service by writing a grant to host a cookout for families at the Harriet Tubman housing site. Other students and members of the Urban League's Young Professionals helped to clean the housing site.
"I want my children to see us doing things to serve others and living out what we speak," said Urban League official Keesha Marshall, who participated in the day of service.
Several people said more community members should have attended the King Day march.
"I'm preaching now," said Napoleon "Donut" Williams while talking to friends about the parade. "Everybody from public works should be here. People take freedom for granted."
Unity Group officials estimated that more than 500 people attended the march this year, compared to 1,500 people who attended in years past, said Quenston Coleman, chairman of the Unity Group's M.L. King Day celebration.
"We have 200 or 300 people here. We should have a city," said parade participant Ezzard Robinson. "We can't change things if we're not present."
The group marched from Olivet Baptist Church on M.L. King Boulevard to the Tivoli Theatre where several elected officials and community leaders spoke.
The Rev. David Brown, pastor of the Pilgrim Congregational Church, gave the opening prayer.
"We gather here as your people to affirm that we believe in Dr. King's dream. And we pray that the dream will never leave us," he said.
T-Ran Gilbert of 22 Visionz sang an original song called "Live and Not Die" to encourage youth to value their lives.
Sen. Andy Berke challenged the audience with a quote from King.
"Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle," Berke said. "And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom."
Local singer Ternae Jordan Jr. sang Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come."
Larry L. Earvin, president and CEO of Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, Texas, gave the keynote address.
"Why should we come sing and dance to celebrate Dr. King's birthday and go away to behave the same as we did before," he said. "We are called to community service, to make a difference. You've got everything you need to do it. All you have to do is use it."