For 77 years, Dunbar Easter Parade founded by Evelyn Sams Canady remains beloved tradition

Reporter: Breana Ross
Published: Updated:

On the McCollum Hall murals along Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. in Fort Myers, each brushstroke tells a story of a community’s rich past. It’s made up of places and people who helped shape the Dunbar we know today – Evelyn Sams Canady is one of them.

“She was one of the people that was very influential to the kids,” said Gei Ware, who lives in Dunbar.” That is another example of how they were people, the matriarchs of our community would inspire us.”

Canady was an educator, community leader, and founder of one of Dubar’s most beloved annual events; the Dunbar Easter Parade.

She started it in 1945, and it was a celebration filled with fancy outfits, floats and the Dunbar High School Band. It was the community’s opportunity to have a parade of their own during a time of fierce segregation.

Evelyn Sams Canady.

Martin Byrd, president of the Dunbar Festival Committee, explained, “The treatment in the Edison Festival of Light wasn’t the best for African-Americans, so she wanted an opportunity to give them a parade that they would be appreciated with and that they could celebrate the children of the community as well.”

Some of those children are now seniors with fond memories of the parade.

Marilynn Smallwood Jackson is a native who was born and raised in Fort Myers. “I loved to ride in that parade. I would just ride all of the bicycles,” she recalled. “It was fun and then as I grew up I became head majorette of Dunbar High School. Don’t say it because I was fine during those days and I lead that Dunbar band.”

Ware recalled his own memories, adding, “There was so much pride. Everybody would dress the best that they could, sit out on Anderson Avenue, at that time it was Anderson Avenue, and wait on the parade. That was something we really really looked forward to.”

Seventy-seven years later, the parade is still a beloved tradition carried on by Byrd.

“It is the number one event in the Dunbar community past and present,” Byrd said. “I think it’s pretty much it is a combination of different traditions. If you talk about bands, the importance of education, giving back to our children. Easter kind of brings all of that together as well as it being wrapped up in faith. You’ve got the fabric of what the Dunbar community truly is.”

So when you drive by the face of Evelyn Sams Canady on the McCollum Hall murals, know that her legacy is still bringing people together.

Black history that’s not confined to the past but still bringing joy to the present.

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