The Baltimore City Entertainers Marching Band performs in the parade in 2014. Still via YouTube/acesquad1357.

The bands, dancers, color guards and countless other performers in Baltimore’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade will be back for an 18th year after all.

After getting emotional blowback from constituents for days, Mayor Catherine Pugh on Tuesday night reversed course on her decision to replace the parade down Martin Luther King Boulevard with an official day devoted to volunteering.

“I’m about pleasing the citizens of Baltimore,” Pugh said at a community forum at Carver Vocational-Technical High School in Coppin Heights. “This is not us against them, this is not one initiative against the other. If people want to march down Martin Luther King Boulevard, we’ll make sure that that happens.”

While organizations every year corral volunteers to complete cleanup and beautification projects in neighborhoods – usually after the city’s parade – the mayor has made it an official city-sponsored event for Jan. 15, 2018, dubbing it the Day of Service. Her office has has started listing participating organizations on a city website to link them up with willing volunteers.

Pugh told Baltimore Fishbowl through a spokesperson on Monday that her goal with the Day of Service is to “unite Baltimore as one to better our communities through service…This is what Dr. King would have wanted, and for generations to come, I am excited to start a new tradition that teaches and preserves the importance of his contributions to our lives and society.”

In the process, however, she cut out the annual parade from the day’s programming. Traditionally, marching bands, dance groups, civic organizations, fraternities and others participate in a lively procession down Dr. King’s dedicated thoroughfare in Baltimore to celebrate his legacy. The event draws thousands of spectators each year.

On Monday, Pugh said her administration was “in the final stages of confirming plans” for an additional event on Jan. 15 called the Drum Major for Justice Marching Band Showcase that would still give bands an opportunity to perform while competing against each other. She said last night that she still hopes to host the event, though it may be pushed to the summer.

Some of the backlash to her decision was due to perceptions that the city’s African-American-centric events have lost some of their flare under Pugh’s watch in 2017.

Christopher Ervin, a local criminal justice reform advocate and former city council candidate, pointed out that Pugh had moved the annual summertime African-American Festival, traditionally held at Camden Yards, to Druid Hill Park and cut it from two days to one. Meanwhile, other city-sanctioned events like the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in March and the Greek Independence Day Parade in April remained untouched, he said.

“I see a trend in some of her political moves, and it’s troubling.”

Local resident Ian Power launched a petition to restore the parade. It drew more than 1,700 signatures as of Wednesday morning.

The petition noted the city has also continued to invest in Light City and Artscape, both arts-centric, consumer-driven festivals that happen in developed, whiter areas of Baltimore, and that Pugh herself had recently attended two holiday events in mostly white Mount Vernon and Hampden to show her support.

“Removing the parade means lessening the visibility of black Baltimore, and lessening the city’s accountability to celebrating black Baltimore,” it read.

Pugh said she changed her mind in part to “make sure everyone is happy” with the festivities celebrating the civil rights icon’s holiday.

“We’ve got a lot of things to focus on,” the mayor said last night. “Violence reduction, creating [jobs] and reducing unemployment in the city are real top priorities. So, a parade is not a big issue for the citizens. If that’s what they want, we’ll make sure they have it.”

Click here to learn more about the Day of Service, and to keep track of the city’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day plans.

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Ethan McLeod

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...