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Unity Day, Tuscaloosa's celebration of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, will return Monday after last year's events were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The day's events, organized by the Tuscaloosa chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, will include a Unity March and a mass rally. However, the Unity Day breakfast will not be held because of the recent surge in local coronavirus cases.
Organizers encourage participants in this year's Unity Day activities to wear masks, practice social distancing and otherwise abide by Centers for Disease Control's COVID-19 guidelines to ensure everyone's safety.
During the Unity March, participants are expected to hold signs that will bring attention to local and national issues, such as injustice and gun violence, said the Rev. James Williams, president of the Tuscaloosa chapter of the SCLC.
"In celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's birthday, we stand for the things Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood for and against the things he stood against," Williams said.
Unity Day activities will begin at 11 a.m. Monday at Beulah Baptist Church, 3100 25th St., with entertainment from local dance teams and marching bands.
Around noon, participants will line up for the Unity March, which will start the church, pass by Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School and end at Tuscaloosa City Hall, 2201 University Blvd.
A mass rally will be held at 5 p.m. at First African Baptist Church, 2621 Stillman Blvd., to conclude the Unity Day celebration.
Williams, 75, said he has served as the Tuscaloosa SCLC president for a year, but he has been a part of the organization since the 1960s. He grew up in Demopolis and has lived in Tuscaloosa since 1970. He now serves as pastor of First Baptist Church in Newbern in Hale County, which borders Tuscaloosa County to the south.
Williams said Unity Day holds a greater meaning to him personally, since he witnessed and experienced hardships during the civil rights era in Alabama.
For example, he says he felt the sting of segregation at Alabama restaurants during the civil rights era, but today he can clearly see the positive changes and impact King's teachings have made in the South.
"And that's why I'm so proud of him," Williams said. "We march and continue to celebrate his legacy and his birthday every year on this holiday. And I'm so glad Ronald Reagan made it a national holiday."
On Nov. 2, 1983, then-President Reagan signed into law a bill creating a national holiday to honor King after the bill was passed by Congress. The holiday was observed for the first time on Jan. 20, 1986.
Reach Jasmine Hollie at JHollie@gannet.com.
This article originally appeared on The Tuscaloosa News: Tuscaloosa to honor Martin Luther King Jr. during Unity Day