PORT ARTHUR, Texas — Many Southeast Texas leaders agree there is still significant work that needs to be done to fulfil Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream of equality.
Across the county, many gathered to celebrate the life and legacy of King.
King’s daughter, Bernice King, set the tone for Monday via Twitter, stating the best way to celebrate her father’s legacy is through voter education and registration.
A similar message was shared at a brunch held at the Bob Bowers Civic Center in Port Arthur. Multiple Southeast Texas leaders who attended agreed that while significant progress had been made, a great deal of work needs to be done concerning equality.
“Go out on the street corners, protest, say hello, protest with peace and show your love for all of mankind, not just one group, not for one party but for all of Texas," Michael Copper, president of the Beaumont chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People," said.
Cooper has seen first hand the progress that has been made concerning equality. As a child, the NAACP chapter president attended a racially segregated school.
“1976, I integrated [into] Guess Elementary School,” Cooper said.
Cooper attended Lucas Elementary, a school that at the time was only for Black students. The chapter president later integrated to Roy Guess Elementary.
Cooper said Guess was 45 minutes from where he stayed and there were two schools closer to him. However, he was happy to make the trip to be a part of the change.
“I'm glad I was a part of that change because now in Southeast Texas, when I run across businessmen and women that's white, Hispanic, I know how to handle myself,” Cooper said. “I know how to speak. I know how to treat someone.”
Another Southeast Texan who attended the brunch and remembers being a part of the civil rights era is Port Arthur Mayor Thurman Bartie.
“I remember marching with my dad when I was about three years old here in Port Arthur,” Mayor Bartie said.
The Port Arthur mayor said it was great to see people come together to honor the civil rights leader's legacy. Mayor Bartie feels there is still a great deal of work needed to be done in fulfilling King’s vision.
“Dr. King talked about this dream, I guess it was in 1964 and 1965,” Bartie said. “There are still tenants and elements in the dream that we have not fulfilled.”
The Port Arthur mayor said it's important to teach young people about carrying on King's legacy and standing up for what's right.
Another important topic addressed at the brunch concerned the fragility of freedom and the importance of making sure minority voices are heard at the polls.
“I think if we could just unify, I mean, I know that we have different political stances, but if as a community, we could unify and just make everything better for everybody,” Galen Douglas, Gamma Tau Lambda chapter president, said. “I think that's pretty much helping his dream come true.”
Douglas feels there is no way to repay King for what he has done for Black Americans and the society as a whole.
Many who attended the brunch said the day is not just a day of remembrance. Southeast Texans said Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a day for everyone to come together to stand for what is right.
Area leaders viewed the ability to sit with people who appreciate and strive to honor King’s work as a privilege and an honor. They agreed that even though COVID-19 put a pause on some events, they are happy the events that did take place helped King's message of respect and equality be heard.