The Kingdom Day Parade always started with Larry E. Grant cruising down a boulevard in South Los Angeles with a procession of colorful floats, marching bands and dance troupes trailing behind.
Grant traveled the three-mile route on the back of a convertible, waving at the throng of spectators who lined the streets to celebrate the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the slain civil rights leader. Then Grant would hop out of the car and climb into the bleachers to watch the rest of the parade.
But he never stayed there long.
There was always something that required his attention, like a drill team basking too long in the parade's spotlight and threatening to slow the procession.
"Keep it moving," he would yell.
Grant, who co-founded the parade commemorating King that was the first in Los Angeles and became one of the largest in the nation, died Saturday of heart failure at Torrance Memorial Medical Center, said his daughter Deborah Grant Lacy. He was 86.
Grant created the yearly event as an entertaining way to unite the community. It also became a means of mending wounds. In the aftermath of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, when tensions were still thick between Korean store owners and black residents, Grant appointed a Korean taekwondo master to serve as co-chair.
"The parade tries to make a difference," said Teri King, whose father, Celes King III, helped bring the event to Los Angeles. "It's not just this day of fun. It's more than that." Grant "tried to bring harmony to the community."
A short, outspoken man with a deep love for his country, Grant was driven by passion when he set out to stage the first parade. He had no experience but wanted to create a platform to showcase black leaders in the community, and hopefully inspire the youth.
He drew from the leadership skills he acquired in the Army and his connections as a banker.
Grant was born March 14, 1926, in Sherman, Texas, and moved to Carson as a teenager. He was later drafted into the Army, where he served for 20 years, including during World War II and the Korean War. He went on to attend the University of Maryland and earned a degree in banking.
In 1979, he was the chief executive officer of Pacific Coast Bank in San Diego, living there during the week and returning to Carson on the weekends, when he shared with the bank's president his idea of honoring King with a parade.
His colleague encouraged Grant to form the nonprofit National Cultural Corp.
A year later, Grant threw the first King parade in San Diego, before the civil rights activist's birthday was recognized as a national holiday.
Grant stopped commuting to San Diego in 1983, but his nonprofit organization continued to organize the annual parade there. Each year brought increasing public attention to King's birthday as the drive to make it a national holiday gained momentum.
Grant was eager to bring the parade to Los Angeles.
In a chance encounter, he ran into a former banking client, Celes King III, a prominent bail bondsman and longtime activist in civil rights issues and Republican Party politics.
The two men combined forces, and on Jan. 20, 1986, hosted the first Kingdom Day Parade in Los Angeles. It was also the first year that King's birthday was celebrated as a federal holiday.
The Los Angeles parade grew each year despite a noticeable lack of support from City Hall.
Mayor Tom Bradley, the city's black mayor, didn't take part for its first six years. And only one city official showed up in the early years. Some questioned whether the celebration was an appropriate tribute to the slain leader.
Eventually, the parade would blossom into one of the largest celebrations of King, attracting tens of thousands of spectators, and becoming a huge draw for politicians, along with high school marching bands, equestrians and even mariachi bands.
Grant's wife of 63 years, Nancy, died in 2010. He is survived by two daughters, Deborah Grant Lacy and Nancy Grant Williams; two sons, Gerald and James; a sister, Sheila Grant Keith; a brother, Byron Grant; 10 grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.
Funeral services will be held Saturday at 11 a.m. at Central Baptist Church in Carson.firstname.lastname@example.org