Thousands of Houstonians wrapped in thick blankets and puffy jackets lined Houston’s sidewalks Monday to view the 41st annual Original Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade presented by the city and the Black Heritage Society downtown and at the MLK Grande Parade in midtown.
U.S. Rep. John Lewis, particularly drew cheers from the shivering crowd at the city-sponsored parade.
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re white, or black, or Latino, or Asian American or Native American,” Lewis said. “We are one people. We are one family. We all live in the same house.”
Lewis, a civil rights icon in his own right who marched alongside Dr. King in Alabama, served as grand marshal of the parade along with the Astros’ outfielder George Springer.
Though the celebration kicked off a half hour behind schedule, local radio DJs kept the crowd’s energy high throughout.
Many in attendance reflected on how Dr. King’s messages of justice, unity and peaceful protest seem necessary today as the country feels more divided than ever.
Joseph Gomes, 62, attended with his nephew, grandnephew and grandniece, said it’s important to remind younger generations that the Civil Rights Movement of King’s time continues today.
“Don’t believe it’s over,” Gomes said.
At the parade in midtown, just miles away, children bounced up and down San Jacinto Street moving their hips and dancing along with the dozens of bands celebrating King’s legacy. They were among thousands of people who lined the mile-long MLK Grande Parade route.
“We set out on a mission to make this event a culture of diversity, and I think we’ve achieved it,” said founder Charles Stamps, who has denied any intention of political gamesmanship in his parade. “Dr. King was for everybody.”
Houston lawyer Tony Buzbee and businessman Bill King served as the co-grand marshals.
Despite the apparent division between the two parades — including that Buzbee and Bill King are both Mayor Sylvester Turner’s opponents in the coming election — the focus on San Jacinto Street was on a unity and inclusiveness that parents hoped to show their children among national political division.
“It’s history, family, community, love,” said Derrick Askew, a Houston resident who was at the parade with two 10-year-old grandchildren. “It’s important to let our family know that there’s a better sense of community than the community we are seeing on the news.”
Stamps anticipated about 300 groups marching through the parade, with hundreds more cheering them on.
Stamps was formerly a volunteer for the group that runs the official city parade, the Black Heritage Society. He formed a new parade foundation to run the separate Grande Parade in 1995. A feud developed between the separate parade organizers, who clashed over permits, sponsors and attendees.
Addison Waters, a 9-year-old who was with her family on Monday, said she likes learning about King and hopes people can continue spreading his message.
“He brought white people and black people and all people of the world together,” Walters said.