As thousands of people lined the streets of downtown Columbus Saturday, Arrica Baker remarked on the tradition that brings people together for the annual Tuskegee-Morehouse Classic Parade.
"I just love things like this because it's like a big family reunion, the opportunity to get out, see and meet people," said Baker, standing on the sidewalk along Broadway.
She was among the crowd for the parade before the football game at A.J. McClung Memorial Stadium. At an event held one month before the Nov. 6 General Election, the parade was a popular location for many politicians to greet supporters along with the marching bands, civic groups, motorcycle clubs and other groups.
Many like Baker said they didn't even have a favorite team because it's hard to choose between Morehouse and Tuskegee. "I know somebody is going to win," she said.
Helen L. Bell of Columbus said she never had a problem picking a team to support.
"I'm a Georgian," Bell said. "I'm Morehouse."
A lifelong resident of Columbus, Bell said she was surprised at the turnout for the parade.
"I have been to most of them, and this is a big turnout today," she said. "It's a lot going on for one thing."
Emma Anekwe of Columbus said her ties to Tuskegee date back to the mid-1960s, when she worked at the hospital. Her two sons also earned degrees from the university.
"I have a long history with Tuskegee since 1966," said Anekwe, who doesn't go to the game.Wearing a Stetson hat for his Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club and riding a scooter, Preston Hamilton of Columbus said he's attracted to the parade for the marching bands and pretty girls. Hamilton said the group travels the country preserving the history of the unit formed by Congress in 1866. The soldiers were responsible for helping to tame the West." We are dedicated to preserving the history and dedication of the Buffalo Soldiers," Hamilton said. "We are called the forgotten heroes. Some people don't know what they stood for."
While many lined the streets for the parade, hundreds more filled the east side of the Columbus Civic Center parking lot for tailgating. The lot was filled with haze from barbecue grills, and sounds of R&B and hip hop music blasted from sound systems.Tailgating has been a tradition for Fred Dickerson of Montgomery, Ala., for the last 10 years. "I always tailgate with all the Tuskegee guys," said Dickerson, a 1964 graduate who retired from teaching at Booker T. Washington High School in Tuskegee. For the first time in all her visits to the classic, Gloria Fields of Auburn, Ala., decided to leave the stands and tailgate Saturday. It was one to remember."This is our first year doing the tailgating," she said. "We used to just go to the games.
It's fine when we can get going. We forgot the grill actually. When you don't know a lot, you don't know."
With a large gathering, the South Atlantic Center for Veterans Education and Training Inc. used tailgating as outreach for veterans, said Freddie Harrison, the nonprofit organization's chief executive officer. SACVET parked its bus and set up two bright red tents to attract veterans needing services. "When they see our sign, they come in and ask questions," Harrison said. "We have people who are knowledgeable in compensation and benefits, how to process papers." Harrison said 25-30 veterans were served last year. Many didn't know the answer to problems in getting veteran benefits. "It starts the mental process," Harrison said. "We get a chance to tailgate and serve veterans."
Any veteran who has questions about benefits may call SACVET at 706-593-3393.