Waxahachie residents gathered to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s bold and gentle contribution to the Civil Rights movement, around the historic Ellis County Courthouse on the date of King's birth.
People of all backgrounds, ages and races banded together and marched peacefully, living out King's dream, to commemorate the man, his legacy and the occasion.
“I want to thank you all for coming out and sharing in this great event with us,” Local NAACP President Betty Jefferson said. “Today we are here to honor the memory of the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and what he and the civil rights movement did for America.”
Jefferson said King’s dream was that people of all walks of life, races, colors and creeds work together in peace.
The event started off with a prayer from Pastor Matt Curry of the Central Presbyterian Church in Waxahachie. Curry thanked God for King’s life and prayed that everyone remember and take to heart his message of peace, freedom, economic justice and reconciliation each day.
Following the prayer Waxahachie resident Ronald Levingston spoke to the crowd about how King’s legacy continues today.
“When you talk about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., you could probably talk four or five years about what he has accomplished. There has been progress made throughout the country. Progress comes in different forms and fashions,” Levingston said. “Dr. Martin Luther King was only 39 years old. The time he spent on this earth was short lived, but he accomplished a lot in his few years. Because of Dr. King, change happened all over the nation. He was a man that not only freed a people, but changed a nation.”
Levingston said there has been a lot of progress made here in Waxahachie over the past 50 years. Signs that once read in businesses “whites only” are no more and will never be seen again. The city has also had three African American mayors.
“When someone comes up to you and asks if progress has been made in the Civil Rights movement we can say yes,” Levingston said. “We must also understand until we as African Americans can be judged not by the 'color of our skin, but by the content of our character' the work must continue and the dream must live on.”
Following Levingston, Waxahachie Mayor John Wray shared his thoughts to the crowd on this very historic day.
“I am so honored to be here today. I want to acknowledge and thank Dr. King for his life, his legacy, his ministry and all the things he has done for America. He has done so much to bring us together as a nation,” Wray said. “I am thankful that we have a world now where our children are judged more by the content of their character than the color of their skin.”
Judge Curtis Polk shared Wray's feelings that King did a lot for the country and left a legacy here in Waxahachie as well. Polk remarked that if it were not for King, he would not have had the chance to serve as a judge.
Following the gathering on the courthouse steps, the group marched down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to Freedman Memorial Plaza. There Waxahachie City Councilman Chuck Beatty explained the significance of the memorial.
“The rows on the concrete path symbolize cotton, and the broken chains on the ground commemorate the end of slavery and emancipation,” he spoke clearly for all to hear and remember.
He continued saying, the path winding into the plaza symbolizes hallowed ground. In the middle of the plaza stood the memorial made of black granite that came from South Africa. Inscribed on it are the names of different African American community and business leaders and citizens that have made a positive impact on the city of Waxahachie.
The procession then marched from the memorial to Joshua Chapel A.M.E.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade would not be what it is today if it wasn't for resident Ricky Don Sargeant, said Pastor Samuel Baker of Joshua Chapel A.M.E. Church.
“We usually have his brother here to introduce him,” Baker said. “I know I won't do him justice, but I present to you now Ricky Sargeant. He has become known for his rendition of Dr. King's speech at the March on Washington.”
As Sargeant took to the podium and recited the famous speech from heart, members of the audience were captivated by his words, which were spoken with such precision. Concluding with the words, “free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, we're free at last,” the church erupted with applause.
Pastor Bruce Zimmerman of Waxahachie Bible Church was invited to the podium to share what the day meant to him. He quoted the scripture from Psalm 133:1, which reads, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.” Elaborating on the scripture, he introduced an African-American gentleman who has been living with Zimmerman's family for the past year and a half.
“I'm pleased to stand here with my brother,” Zimmerman said. “We eat together, watch the same television, sit on the same couch and cheer for the same football team. He is truly my brother and I'm thankful to share, not only my home with him, but this moment.”
Baker also invited Bishop Robert Davis of Emmanuel Upper Room Church of God in Christ to share about his experience of growing up during the King era. Baker recounted the days of picking cotton and having to go to the rear of restaurants to pick up his food.
“Those were some very difficult times for us as a people,” Davis said. “I know what it's like to have to go to the field to pick cotton. I know what it's like to see signs that read 'Whites only.' And although those were tough times, I believe it made us stronger as a people.”
Davis added that he is grateful for people like King and Harriet Tubman.
“Those were people of great courage,” he said. “I'm sure they had much fear, but I believe their fear was overshadowed by their courage.”
Let Martin Luther King Jr. Day remind us all of the courage and strength it took to overcome adversity and begin to bridge the chasm between our brothers and sisters, so we may all live each day to bring each other close together.