The Sherman community celebrated the legacy of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. on Saturday with a parade that wound through the city’s downtown streets. It ended at Austin College with musical performances and speeches that called attention to persistent divisions but encouraged listeners to continue their work toward King’s vision of a unified country.
The parade, which included music from the Sherman High School Bearcat Marching Band, dozens of vehicles, elected officials, and Grayson County organizations, traveled down North Travis Street and East Brockett Street, before ending at AC’s Wright Campus Center.
“Its just incredible to see people of all different races, colors and walks of life out here celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. and what he stood for,” parade participant Alyse Daniels said as she stopped to give herself and her soon-to-be-born baby a rest. “You know, really, it shows that our community is willing to come together and overcome our differences.”
King, who began his career as a Baptist minister, quickly rose to become one of the most recognizable figures of the American civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. He championed nonviolent protest and organized numerous rallies, including the 1963 march on Washington, D.C., where he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
In 1964, King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and went on lead the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama before he turned his efforts toward fighting poverty and opposing the Vietnam War. King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee in 1968. By 1971, numerous states and cities celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the United States government declared MLK Day a federal holiday in 1986.
Mayor David Plyler spoke at Austin College following the parade and cited the value of in-person conversations in combating racial intolerance.
“I think one of the things that has driven our country to this incredibly divided place we find ourselves in today is a lack of communication,” Plyler said. “The internet and social media allow us to wall off ourselves from people with different views and it has led to some calamitous results for our society. But when we’re able to log off and set down our phones and come together to talk to our fellow community members, that’s what helps tear down those walls.”
Austin College junior Christian Chiles served as the student speaker. Chiles said progress has been made in the fight against racial inequality and illustrated how far America has come by reminding audience members of the injustices black Americans and other minorities faced not so long ago.
“There’s a chance that the person sitting next to you wouldn’t be able to use the same restroom as you, or drink from same fountain as you, or even live in a two-mile radius of you,” Chiles said.
Despite the nation’s progress, Chiles said black Americans and minorities still face immense challenges today in interactions with law enforcement, in their barriers to education and employment, and social tolerance. Nonetheless, he encouraged those oppressed by racism and intolerance to remember King’s words that men and women are defined by their actions in times of controversy and challenge.
“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” — Martin Luther King Jr.