“This is a celebration of the life of a great American,” said keynote speaker Fred McLure, executive director of the George HW Bush Library Foundation. “He made a determined decision to fight a system of injustice from within and from without. He gave his life in and for the service of others.”
East Texans of all ages gathered in downtown to recognize the 27th year for the Tyler event, which the Tyler Together Race Relations Forum organized.
King was a civil rights leader in the 1960s who is known for his stirring rhetoric, his commitment to nonviolence and his role in getting the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed, legislation that legally ended racial segregation and voter discrimination.
Destiny Williams, 12, is a member of Young Girls with Purpose, a mentoring and leadership program for African-American middle school and high school girls. She carried a sign for the event that read “I have a dream, too.”
“I have dreams that I know will come true in the future,” she said.
“It's like I was telling the kids on the bus, we wouldn't be able to go into restaurants to eat without Dr. King,” she said. “He brought black and white together nonviolently. I think that's a great thing.”
In his “I Have a Dream” speech, part of which was read aloud at the event, King dreamed not only of equal rights for all people but of a day when blacks and whites would come together.
That dream was underscored by the diverse crowd gathered at the event.
“Today is important to all of us as citizens of Tyler and the United States,” said Tyler Mayor Barbara Bass. “Today stands for equal rights for everyone. It means that women and minorities have an equal place at the table, and it's a prime example of a person, Martin Luther King, who was living their faith, regardless of the consequences.”
Many of the attendees remembered the attitudes and culture of King's time and reflected on it at the event.
“A lot of us back in the day thought that we couldn't get along,” said Wolf Ray, 66. “But Dr. King showed us we can and we should.”
Many of the speakers noted that, although there has been tremendous progress since King's time, there is still work to do.
“We should all ask ourselves: what can I do to improve race relations in East Texas?” said Kenneth Cobb, member of the Tyler Together Race Relations Forum.