A memorial ceremony today for the woman who started Lakeland’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. parade 40 years ago ended with a dramatic and symbolic release of four caged doves.

A footstone marking the grave of Christine Simmons was unveiled today on the 91st anniversary of the birth of King. Simmons, who was born the year after King was, died in 2007 at the age of 77.

She was remembered for her courage, boldness and passion as a fearless community organizer who got things done in remarks by the Rev. Willie Mae Hogan of New Bethel AME Church.

The event was organized by Doris Moore Bailey, who thanked the donors who contributed to the pink marble footstone that carried the image of an angel. It ended with the release of four one-year-old doves who circled Oak Hill Cemetery several times together before flying off to their new home.

“This is called a trinity release. The first dove released represents the person that’s passed, Christine,” explained Frank Fanni of A Touch Above, who handled the bird release. “And we release the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit behind it.”

Touched by the ceremony honoring Simmons, Franni offered to release 20 doves at a future running of the annual MLK parade. He said prior commitments will keep him from attending this year’s parade.

This year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Parade will be held on Saturday. It starts at 11 a.m. at Providence Road and 14th St., turning east on 10th Street and then south on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Simmons organized the first MLK parade in 1980 under the auspices of Boy Scout Troop 762, which she led as scoutmaster for nearly three decades, and Jeremiah Lodge 277 of International Masons and Order of the Eastern Star, according to a history read by Vera Owens, a friend of Simmons.

She was also credited with leading the drive to change the name of North Dakota Avenue to Martin Luther King Boulevard.

Christine Simmons with a cutout of Dr. King

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Barry Friedman founded Lkldnow.com in 2015 as the culmination of a career in print and digital journalism. Since 1982, he has used the tools of reporting, editing and content curation to help people in Lakeland understand their community better.

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