The African American Day Parade was founded in the spring of 1968. The first meeting was held at 2315 Seventh Avenue in Harlem. The founding members were Livingston Wingate, Conrad S. Peter, Cenie Jomo Williams, Abe Snyder, Abdel Krim, Jacklyn Peterson, Piankhi Akinbaloye, Ennis Francis, Leonard Davis, Bernice Bolar, Joseph Steele, Jr., Albert Hunter and Lloyd Mayo. Livingston Wingate and Conrad S. Peter were elected as Co-Chairs. The parade was established as an independent organization and does not accept contributions. The parade was developed with the concept of volunteerism.

The first African American Day Parade was held in September 1969 in Harlem. The first Grand Marshal was Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. The parade route started at 111th Street and Seventh Avenue and terminated at 142nd Street. Harlem was selected as the site for the parade due to its large representation of African people and it is the Black capital of America.

The purpose of the parade is to provide an opportunity for African people to join together on a Special Day to highlight our history and salute African people throughout America and the world for their outstanding achievements. The parade promotes unity, dignity and pride. The parade extends a special arena for organizations, dignitaries, celebrities, community leaders and bands to showcase positive accomplishments for the motivation of African people to achieve higher goals.

Some of the past Grand Marshals included Denzel Washington, Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Mayor David Dinkins, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, Johnnie Cochran, Spike Lee, Queen Mother Moore, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Paul Winfield, Melba Moore and many others. Many musical celebrities have also participated in the parade.

The parade is classified as a National parade with representatives, organizations and bands from 12 states. It has the largest cross-section of Black organizations in America. Over 900,000 viewers attended the parade in 2014.