Martin Luther King Celebration in Tyler, TX 2013
MLK Presentation in Tyler 2013: Fred McClure, Keynote Speaker, Reported by J.D. Meyer
Tyler celebrated the 27th annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Interfaith Commmunity Program at the Immaculate Conception Catholic cathedral. The event is sponsored by the Tyler Together Race Relations Forum (TTRRF). The keynote address was delivered by Fred McClure–the Director of the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library Foundation at Texas A&M.
The invocation by Max Lafser of Tyler Unity included a Bible verse that indicated where we’ve been in the past doesn’t necessarily have a bearing on the future. The local unit of the Korean War veterans presented the colors. The whole audience sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and the lyrics were provided in the program. Father Anthony McLaughlin did the welcome. He noted that racism is an inherent evil–meaning it’s everywhere–and the Catholic church is determined to work against racism. Mayor Barbara Bass was the next speaker, and she shared her reflections on Dr. King. Mayor Bass observed that Dr. King “lived his faith everyday.” God called MLK for a special purpose even if it meant risking his life. The movement has grown beyond the borders of the US. The mayor concluded by asking us to grow each day as a community.
Jeff Williams of Exclusivity Marketing delivered the “Occasion for Gathering.” First, Mr. Williams thanked the crowd for coming to the event because MLK Day is a holiday, and we could have gone anywhere or stayed home. He noted that today we live in a time of more division than unity. There has been resistance to changing the status quo whether it was the Civil War, women’s vote, or the Civil Rights Movement. You can see further when you’re higher in the elevator. Mr.Williams reflected that Lyndon B. Johnson knew how to get things done. When LBJ met MLK, Blacks were routinely denied the right to vote but paid taxes and died in war. MLK told LBJ, “There’s always the right time to do the right thing.” LBJ asked Dr. King to help him put enough pressure to do the right thing. Mr. Williams reminded us that both Johnson and King were Southerners. Johnson was from Texas, and King was from Georgia. As a member of Tyler Together, Mr. Williams wants to know your perspective, what matters to you, and to meet you, so TTRRF can help build a better community. He proclaimed that we can’t afford to lose brain power in the community.
Steve Russell of Empowering Texas Youth introduced the keynote speaker, Fred McClure. They have been friends since high school through belonging to Future Farmers of America (FFA) in neighboring cities. Fred McClure graduated from Nacogdoches High School where he also played football and was a pianist for the band. Mr. McClure earned a bachelors degree in Agricultural Economics at Texas A&M in 1976 where he became that university’s first African-American student body president. I should add that Texas A&M had under 5% Black enrollment in that era. On the other hand, agricultural economics was Texas A&M’s most popular major back then. After getting a law degree from Baylor, McClure became an advisor to President Ronald Reagan, President George H.W. Bush, and Texas Senator John Tower. Mr. McClure became a member of the Texas A&M Board of Regents in 1995 and later joined the board of directors for the 12th Man Foundation. Now Mr. McClure is the director of the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library Foundation at Texas A&M http://bushlibrary.tamu.edu /.
Now it was time for the keynote address. Fred McClure began by stating Martin Luther King served others, and we should do likewise. Use the system to find your place in it. Have a role in the future. Don’t dwell on the past more than to avoid making the same mistakes. Success is based on your commitment to become what you want. Too often society judges us on our paycheck and our car. Democracy depends on having active participants. Showing up is more than half the battle. Fred McClure told us about Lafayette Park in Washington D.C. It has been the scene of many protests, notably Vietnam War protests. Sometimes homeless people live there. Mr. McClure recalled a story of a homeless man who died on a cold day while guarding his wheelchair bound friend. It turned out that man was a World War II hero and Bronze Star winner, so he was buried in Arlington Cemetery. He had saved lives during the war, and he died trying to help his friend. MLK urged us to rise above individual concerns to a concern for society; his actions led to a social and economic revolution. Thanks to Dr. King, the U.S. has a stronger regard for the rights and privileges in the Constitution. The late Texas congresswoman, Barbara Jordan, lamented that she used to feel left out of “We the people.” Nobody is self-sufficient declared Mr. McClure. No single group in society can have its own way. We can’t feel well-off as long as there is disease and poverty. All of us make mistakes, including the best. Wise people make bigger mistakes than fools because they have more responsibility! Let’s have a head-on collision with things that matter. In the movie, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” the dad tried to talk his son out of marrying the white daughter by saying he owed him for the hard work he did as a mailman. Sidney Poitier’s character retorted that he didn’t owe him anything; you’re supposed to work hard for the benefit of your children as he will work hard for his kids. We must stand up and defend what we believe–be true to our values and ourselves. We transcend the ego through eternal truths for beneath diversity, there is the inherent dignity of life. Fred McClure ended his talk with that famous verse from Micah (6:8). “What he requires of us is this: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with our God.”
The program ended with some remarks from Bishop Joe Strickland and Reverend Jerome Milton. The bishop said that people of consequence are moved by the Holy Spirit, which is the greatest power on earth. He urged us to be a society that treasures each human heart and responds to the Holy Spirit. Reverend Milton declared that no movement is worth starting if it can’t live beyond you. Few believed over a quarter century ago that an MLK Day celebration would succeed in East Texas or Tyler. The final speaker was Herwanea Lewis-Sirles, the Tyler Together Race Relations director. She gave a plaque to Fred McClure and thanked all the participants. Mr. Lewis-Sirles urged us to check out the TTRRF website http://www.tylertogether.org/index.html and to visit a monthly meeting. After the benediction, we left for the traditional stew on the cathedral’s porch –a great place to run into long-lost favorite acquaintances