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50 years on, African American Day Parade still rules Harlem

Former Mayor David Dinkins and former Rep. Charles Rangel are grand marshals of this year’s parade.
Image: Black Masons at the 50th Anniversary African American Day Parade in Harlem on Sept. 15, 2019.
Black Masons at the 50th Anniversary African American Day Parade in Harlem on Sept. 15, 2019.Andrew Lichtenstein / Corbis via Getty Images

In the aftermath of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968, and the riots that ensued across the country, 13 community leaders in New York City met in Harlem to discuss how best to heal the wounds of African American communities and project the strength and resilience of African Americans. Out of that meeting was born the African American Day Parade, and a year later, on Sept. 21, 1969, the first parade was held.

Fifty years later, the parade, which is held in September and runs along Harlem’s Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, exudes a sense of unity, pride and progress. It’s still going strong, even as Harlem, considered the spiritual home of African Americans and the African diaspora, has undergone demographic changes.

“This is our home! Harlem is our home,” said the parade’s chairman, Yusuf Hasan. “And while the African American Day Parade is a staple in Harlem, it represents the entire African American community.”

The theme of this year’s recent parade was “Integrity and Transparency = Good Government,” an attempt to showcase the wealth of black political aristocracy and civil service gentry. Grand marshals included David N. Dinkins, New York’s first black mayor, and former Rep. Charles B. Rangel.

It was serendipitous, Hasan said, that this year’s theme is government, given that at the inaugural parade the grand marshals were Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr., for which the boulevard is named, and Rerp. Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress.

“It’s important this parade stays in Harlem,” Hasan said. “This is one of those institutions that highlights the dignity and accomplishments of our community. We draw the line right here! Right now, with the parade, it means we are still here and we are still viable.”