Merlin Kennedy became the first black Santa Claus in Normal, Illinois, on Dec. 12. The 89-year-old civil rights activist was almost arrested for putting on a Santa suit in the same town in 1966 (video below).
The organizers of the event noted the significance of Kennedy's role as Santa.
"Because of the times that we're living in today with so much happening throughout these United States, that we get an opportunity to rewrite history and to continue the conversations about race and equality and diversity," Takesha Stokes, vice president of the Bloomington-Normal NAACP, told WEEK-TV.
The Bloomington-Normal NAACP, uptown Normal and a Santa’s Station worked together to make this historical moment happen in 2015 without any arrests.
In 1966, Kennedy defied the town's "One Santa Rule" and showed up at a Christmas parade dressed as Kris Kringle, the McLean County Museum of History noted. At the time, Kennedy was the NAACP chapter president.
Police blocked the NAACP's Christmas float from entering the parade, so Kennedy and three other people walked the parade route and waved to the crowd.
“They just seen the suit and they didn't recognize a black person in the suit," Kennedy told the museum. "One [white] woman almost jerked her little boy's arm off because he called me Santa Claus."
The museum says police threatened to arrest Kennedy for “disturbing the peace," but WEEK-TV reports that he was arrested.