I had plans to go to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Celebration on Monday, January 16th. The celebration kicked off with a gathering at the square in downtown Tyler, followed by individuals and groups walking the short distance to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. I made 3 posters and 25 goodie bags with nuts, candy, and a word search puzzle about Dr. King to give to the children. Unfortunately, I had car trouble so by the time I got it repaired and arrived, it was over.

I decided to drive to the cathedral where the program was to be held. I parked and walked inside where a few people were still there talking or roaming about. I wondered exactly what had been said about Dr. King during the program. What were the speeches about?

I picked up a printed program where I saw the theme: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” My thoughts were, that’s a nice theme and a “safe” one. Yet I wondered why it is that during these celebrations we seem to only talk about the nice and safe statements made by Dr. King like “Light” and “Love” or his “I Have a Dream Speech.” Some say, and I agree, this is an attempt to “whitewash” or sanitize Dr. King.

We must remember that Dr. King also said things like:
“Now is time to make real the promises of democracy.”
“Now is the time to make justice a reality for all God’s children.”
And we must not forget his statement, “The majority of white Americans consider themselves committed to justice for the Negro. But unfortunately, this is a fantasy of self-deception and comfortable vanity.”
He also said, “…the doctrine of white supremacy was embedded in every textbook and preached in practically every pulpit.” “…that the white man ended up making God his partner in the exploitation of the Negro.”
And quite relevant to today, Dr. King said, “A society is always eager to cover misdeeds with a cloak of forgetfulness, but no society can fully repress an ugly past when the ravages persist into the present.”

After reviewing the printed program, I approached a local news crew at the entrance of the cathedral. I told them how I had missed the program and showed them my 3 posters. They made a short video of my posters, asked me a couple of questions, recorded my answers and we went our separate ways.

I then walked over to the building where I was told soup was being served. I saw children seated at the tables with adults, most of them eating their cups of soup. I took the liberty of passing out to the children my small goodie bags with the word search of Dr. King.

Though I was pleased with the little I felt I had accomplished, I still didn’t feel quite satisfied. As I was leaving, I couldn’t help but notice others did appear to be satisfied, some with smiles on their faces, others engaged in conversations as if to imply we came to participate in a celebration to honor Dr. King. Mission Accomplished!

Later that evening as I was scrolling on Twitter, I came across a short video of Rev. Dr. William Barber of the Poor People’s Campaign. Rev. Barber began by saying that we really can’t celebrate a prophet like Dr. King. He said, “When prophets are killed or assassinated our job is to pick up the baton and continue the work “. He continued by saying, we can’t be at ease “by celebrating the fights and victories won in the past without engaging the battles today”. Also that “sadly, many will go to King events today and claim to honor the prophet because dead prophets are easy to be honored.” “Many will go while even today they are standing diametrically opposed to what he fought for, such as addressing poverty and racism, voter protection, healthcare for all. I thought about some of the elected officials listed on the program like our State Representative Matt Schaefer, our newly elected U.S. Congressman Nathaniel Moran, as well as our Smith County Judge and Tyler Mayor, both Republicans.

Afterward, I listened to my favorite radio talk show host speak about how at the time of Dr. King’s death he was more hated than loved. She mentioned several of the harsher statements Dr. King wrote in his last book entitled Where Do We Go From Here, Chaos or Community? She said it was as if Dr. King was talking about our conditions today and what we as blacks are experiencing right now. It’s as if his dream spoken of in 1963 had turned into a nightmare by the time he wrote his book in 1967, the year before he was killed.

In his book, Dr. King says that neither the black person nor the white person has done enough to expect the dawn of a new day and what has been done has been accomplished by too few. He says we as blacks have not paid the full price for FREEDOM and whites have not faced the full costs of JUSTICE.

After hearing Rev. Barber and my favorite radio talk show host, I now felt affirmed in my beliefs about Dr. King celebrations. I was finally satisfied.

By Carolyn Davis

Carolyn Davis grew up in Tyler in 1950's and 60's, graduating from John Tyler in 1971. She received a business certification, bachelor's degree with teacher certification, and master's degree from TJC, UT Tyler, UT Arlington respectively. In the 70's and 80's, Carolyn worked in various clerical positions in Tyler including Cotton Belt Railroad, Phillips Coal Co., and ARCO Oil and Gas. She became a teacher in 1988, teaching at Chapel Hill High School her first year. She retired in 2011 after 23 years of teaching, primarily in Dallas. She currently lives in Tyler and is starting an Anti-Racism Book Club. The will begin Thursdays, Aug.18th, 5:30 pm at Tyler Public Library. All are welcome.