It’s up to the current generation to keep Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream alive, speakers said during the MLK Jr. Day Pre-Holiday Celebration at the Texas African American Museum in Tyler.
Keynote speaker Greg Muckleroy, of Kilgore, said although much progress has been made, there’s more to be done – because King wouldn’t be happy with the way things are going today.
“There is no question in my mind that if Dr. Martin Luther King was alive today, he would be just as angry today as he was back in 1967-68,” Muckleroy said. “There is no doubt whatsoever. In our times, we’re looking at different challenges. Although they’re not technically the same, in essence they are. We don’t have equal opportunity like we thought we would. We’re still discriminated against in so many ways. The north side of Tyler is not equal to the south side of Tyler.”
Muckleroy said although East Texas is a completely different place now than it was during the Civil Rights Movement, there are still disparities throughout the region.
“We’re living better, but things are just not equal by no stretch of the imagination,” he said. “… We’ve made a massive amount of progress. I’ve seen incredible changes in East Texas since I was a senior in high school. This is a completely different place. Our communities are far more integrated than they ever were. We are able to go to places that we could never go in the ’50s and ’60s. It just makes the world and Texas such a different place.”
However, some of the forces that fought integration are still around today, Muckleroy said.
“Some of those people are still trying to do the same things they did before. To them, there’s no interest in the races mixing,” he said.
Muckleroy said those people use their voices as power and speak to representatives to try to erase the work King and others have done over the years.
“They have the ability to talk to our legislators to tell them what they don’t want. Our problem is we have that same voice, but we don’t talk to our representatives. We don’t even know who they are,” he said, encouraging attendees to get involved in their local communities and learn how to contact their representatives.
Furthermore, Muckleroy said the biggest thing the African American community can do to keep King’s dream alive is participate.
“Those things that promote equality and the things that Martin Luther King fought for, we have to do our part,” he said. “It does no good to have the right to vote if we don’t vote. That’s very difficult to understand how we fought so hard to be where we are and then we have our own citizens turn our backs on our opportunities. But we can change things if we participate and speak up and have a voice.”
Muckleroy added that many of the things King spoke about in the 1960s are still true today and encouraged attendees to listen to speeches that are available on YouTube.
Rev. Ricky Garner, who introduced Muckleroy and also spoke at the event, said one of Muckleroy’s statements was well worth repeating.
“What sticks in my mind is, ‘If Dr. King were alive today, he would still be angry.’ Isn’t that something? Because we tend to think that we’ve gotten beyond that point, but the fact of the matter is that if Dr. King were standing in the place I’m standing in right now, he would not be pleased,” Garner said. “It’s critical that we don’t forget our history and what we’ve been through and the struggle. We’ve certainly made progress, but there’s a lot of progress we have yet to make.”
Garner pleaded for the community to get involved.
“This holiday, let’s take this opportunity to get involved and stay involved at every level so that we can be facilitators of change – the change that we need to see, that Dr. King talked about – so that hopefully we can realize his dream. Because it has not been realized yet, but we’re working on it.”
Gloria Washington, executive director of the Texas African American Museum, spoke about the importance of celebrating MLK Jr. Day and what it means to continue his legacy.
“We don’t want to let the dream pass away, we don’t want to let it die,” Washington said. “We have got to pick up the pieces.”
She added it is “up to us” to create a better environment for the next generation.
Stanley Cofer, president of the Empowerment Community Development Corporation, thanked God for the opportunity to live King’s dream “out loud.”
“Those of us alive today are living the dream out loud. We just have to seize the opportunities that are before us,” he said. “Because if we don’t, his assassination would be in vain. God has to use somebody, and King stepped up and was that vessel for God to use. We have a lot we owe him and we celebrate his legacy and what he has done.”
Muckleroy and Larry Wade, who led the prayer at the event, recalled where they were when King was assassinated almost 55 years ago.
“I was in Quitman, Texas, at my grandmother’s house when the news flashed on the screen,” Wade said. “I will never forget that day…. It’s some things you just don’t forget. You can read about things in a book, but when you have experienced these things yourself, you will never forget.”
Also at the event, Muckleroy gave an overview of King’s life and his accomplishments.
For entertainment, the Promise Academy choir sang to the crowd. Attendees also joined together to sing “The Negro National Anthem.”
About 85 attendees were at the event and also enjoyed refreshments inside the museum while taking a tour to learn more about African American history in East Texas and the state as a whole.
MLK Jr. Day activities in Tyler will continue on Monday with the annual celebration hosted by Tyler Race Relations Forum. It will begin at 9 a.m. Monday on the downtown Tyler square with a short program, followed by the 9:30 a.m. march to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, 423 S. Broadway, for the 10 a.m. program.
Tyler Race Relations Forum Vice President Dorinda Williams encouraged the community to come out and participate. For those who are unable to walk from the square to the cathedral, there will be a bus to transport attendees. Williams said you can also go straight to the church and wait for the program to begin. Retired Air Force Maj. Beverly J. Russell will be the keynote speaker.