History

Sterling Garrison Belcher Jr. and the history of the Tulsa MLK Parade

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Photo Credit | Timantha Norman

By Contributor Mike Reed – Former MLK Parade Committee Chair & Former MLK Commemoration Society Board Member

Tulsa, Okla. — In mid-1982, almost sure of the timeline for a young black brother & Lutheran Minister, that I must add – a 1966 graduate of Booker T. Washington High School.  His name was Sterling Garrison  Belcher Jr., who attended Concordia Lutheran Seminary in St Louis, Missouri where he received his Master’s Degree in Theology.

In the early 1980’s Sterling returned to Tulsa wondering why Tulsa wasn’t a city that claimed Martin Luther King’s Birthday as a national holiday.  After meeting resistance from the city of Tulsa’s Parade Permit Department, he was denied an MLK Parade Permit for a couple of years, but that did not deter him from repeating the application process.

He was not granted a Parade Permit until national pressure from other states commemorated Rev. Dr. King’s birthday as a national holiday and with Tulsan community pressure pushing our city to not only grant the formation of the National Holiday status but also allowing the Parade Permit.

After allowing the Parade Permit, black Tulsans began the organizational efforts starting in 1984 with the first small group of unified churches and pastors marching from north Tulsa and ending at the Archer and then Cincinnati bridge.  That was the very first organizational march without it having the parade amenities it has today – that was 1986.

A more formal citywide organizational effort exploded in the years that followed to today’s efforts. 

In early 1990’s the MLK Parade became the largest in the country and this year ranks the second or third largest.

The parade was all made possible by a young activist and visionary that stood for justice, equality, equal access, peace, and love for all.

Sterling Belcher Jr., though passed on in January 2011, never received his just name recognition and honor for moving Tulsa and the citizens to a higher just calling to break down racial barriers and construct “Unity” efforts across the spectrum of social ills that divide people and countries. 

There would not have been an MLK Parade or National Holiday in our city if it wasn’t for the courage and dogged actions of our beloved, Sterling Garrison Belcher, Jr. and too, our city agreeing to honor a great American Hero, Dr. King !

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Categories: History, Tulsa