Five hours before the Golden Tigers of Tuskegee and the Maroon Tigers of Morehouse met at A.J. McClung Memorial Stadium, thousands lined the streets of Phenix City and Columbus Saturday for the annual Tuskegee-Morehouse Classic Parade.
Some wore t-shirts while other donned hats during the 9 a.m. parade to celebrate the 82nd meeting of two historically black colleges from Tuskegee, Ala., and Atlanta.
Vanessa Williams, 60, of Columbus was among a throng gathered at 13th Street and Broadway to get a glimpse of both school marching bands and others in the parade.
“It’s a family thing now,” said Williams, who was a majorette at Columbus High School in the mid 1970s. “As long as it’s a black college, I will support all of them.”
Although Williams left Columbus and traveled up the east coast and on to Germany, she remembers the parades whenever she comes home. This year, she supported Morehouse, because she claimed that Tuskegee has had its share. “Tuskegee has won too much,” she said. “It’s got boring.”
Rapheal Mobley, 29, brought his 3-year-old daughter to the parade. He likes to see the children smiling and happy at the event. “It’s a family thing,” said Mobley , a 2007 Spencer High graduate.
Mobley took a break from his studies to see the parade. He is about two years away from achieving a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. He hopes to work for the Drug Enforcement Administration or Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms someday.
Joining the parade route were Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, Muscogee County Sheriff Donna Tompkins, Superior Court Clerk Ann Hardman and other local politicians.
At the end of the parade, there were motorcycles, antiques cars and a white horse drawn funeral hearse. It came from Lamb’s International Funeral Home in Columbus.
It was an odd thing to see for for Emma Anekwe, 76, of Columbus. “(The hearse) put a damper on the celebration of exposing children to education and togetherness,” she said. “I know it’s out of place. I don’t think it was appropriate for this. Some children are scared of going to funerals.”
In the east parking lot at the Columbus Civic Center, maroon-and-gold t-shirts filled the lot with tailgaters before the 2 p.m. kickoff. Trailers equipped with huge speakers were blasting hits from Michael Jackson, and the aroma of pork ribs and chicken wings filled the air.
Daniel Cobb, 59, was busy on the grill at the End Zone, where volunteers expected to serve free meals to about 250 football fans.
“I hope both schools win, but I’m out here for the people,” he said. “I’m out here to see unity with the people. That’s why we bring them in and we feed them. We don’t ask for anything. They do think about us and give us a donation. We feed them free.”
The spread was a popular spot for law enforcement providing security at the event. The group has been providing food at the classic for 17 years. Officer have helped keep the event free of incidents.
“Some years, you have people clown and act up,” Cobb said. “Lately, the past five years, I have seen a lot of unity. The law enforcement got a good hold on everything.”
Near the back of the parking lot, Loretta Richardson and her friends were gathered under a tent that seated more than two dozen. Her family has been regulars at the games since 1989, when her brother graduated from Tuskegee. Over the years, she has met new friends and described the event as a joy.
“I meet new people and friends,” Richardson said. “I hope it’s a Tuskegee win. That is what it’s all about.”
John Cannon, 64, of Columbus wore a maroon shirt, but that’s not the whole story about his support for the two colleges. “I’m neutral,” he said smiling. “I’ve got a granddaughter who just graduated from Tuskegee and a grandson just graduated from Morehouse. I can’t claim Tuskegee or Morehouse. ”
Cannon knows how to juggle his support. “I take my grandson’s side when I’m talking to him,” he said. “I take my granddaughter’s side when I’m talking to her.”
It all started while Cannon was growing up in East Alabama. He was born in Tuskegee and raised in Auburn. The support didn’t stop after he retired from the Army in Columbus.
He started coming to the game in the 1970s and recalled a lot of partying on game day. “The game was a lot better then, ’cause it was at night,” he said.
It was once held with the fair and the game at the same location. It was a hassle until they changed it.
“Most of my people are from Alabama, and they come over to celebrate,” he said. “It’s a family-type gathering. We still have that.”