‘A new tradition’: Texas African American Museum hosts inaugural MLK Parade

The Tyler African American Museum hosted its first-ever Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade in Tyler on Saturday.

Museum Executive Director Gloria Washington initially came up with the idea. For nearly four decades, Tyler Race Relations Forum has hosted a march on MLK Day in downtown Tyler. Washington was thinking how TAAM could add to the celebration, and she thought, “Why not a parade?”

“So I put that idea into motion and came up with a reason for doing it, which is keeping hope alive and wanting to get the community more involved, while the celebrating Dr. King’s holiday weekend,” she said. “So we have three or four days in which we can celebrate, which we can have remembrance, so doing the parade was just a great idea to come up with. To get the Texas African American Museum and the Empowerment Community Development Corporation into the plan of getting this brought forth. We had to come up with the plan, we had to get with the City of Tyler in order to get a permit to have the parade on the streets of Tyler.”

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The parade participants lined up at 10 a.m. on Glenwood Avenue and East Martin Luther King Jr Drive. It proceeded down West MLK to Border, across the railroad trails, then to 26th Street turning onto Broadway. The parade stopped at the Texas African American Museum. 

“There are many Martin Luther King Jr. parades in cities around us like Dallas and Longview, and Tyler is sitting in the hub of things. So why not have a parade here in Tyler. Everyone that leaves Tyler and goes to Dallas for the parade can be involved right here in Tyler, Texas,” said Washington.

Dr. Shirley McKellar, city councilmember representing District 3, was honored at the conclusion of the parade with Dr. Shirley McKellar Day.

“We’re also doing Dr. Shirley McKellar Day which would bring more people into the fold to understand about two doctors, Dr. King and Dr. Shirley McKellar, who is very instrumental in our community and in our city. I wanted to pay recognition to those two individuals,” Washington said. 

McKellar was humbled by the recognition. 

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“It’s very overwhelming,” said McKellar. “I’m so appreciative to my community for thinking enough of me that they want to have a Shirley McKellar Day in the city of Tyler. More importantly, the day that they selected which is Dr. Martin Luther King’s weekend. There’s nobody that can stand up to Dr. Martin Luther King but I’m honored by the mere fact that they thought enough of me to do this that day, and this weekend.”

The community was excited to be part of the parade and commemorate and important holiday weekend.

“Mrs. Washington has done a real good job of putting the pieces together. It was her desire to do a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade and we as the board of directors got behind her and the history is in the making,” said Stanley Cofer, President of the Empowerment Community Development Corporation.

Cofer said in the future, the continuation of this parade each January will “create a weekend of celebration of the Martin Luther King Day.”

“Right now we have a march on Monday, which was canceled this year but the Martin Luther King celebration should be more than one day. This is going to be a new tradition that I hope that generations on down will continue, along with other things that can play in part of festivities and education. Recently we established the North Tyler Historical Cultural Arts District which this parade, and the Juneteenth Parade is located within. This is just going to help enhance what we have in play. We pray that the future generation continue the tradition that we are putting in place.”

Washington said another message spread Saturday was that of unity and growth. 

“We as African Americans, we are concerned about the community, the city, and our state,” said Washington. “We are still reminiscing about the ‘I Have A Dream’ speech of Dr. King. Put that speech in your mindset, and let’s grow. That’s what I want the community to do. Grow from that ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, and let’s make it better.”

The Tyler Race Relations 38th annual MLK Day March and Program, originally set for Monday, was canceled due to inclement weather. Check out this list of other events happening across East Texas.

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