MLK Jr. Day ‘All About the Legacy of Unity’

By LORETTA FULTON

Unity–a major tenet of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s message and legacy–was evident Monday  as Abilenians gathered to honor the slain Civil Rights leader and pastor.

Monday, Jan. 17, was the official holiday honoring King, who was born Jan. 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia. He was assassinated April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee. 

In the afternoon, people gathered in the parking lot of the Woodson Center for Excellence, formerly Woodson High School, to hear various speakers before marching across Martin Luther King Jr. Bridge on East Highway 80.

Among the speakers were two of Abilene’s top leaders–Mayor Anthony Williams and Police Chief Marcus Dudley. Both are the first Black men to serve in those positions. Both praised their community for striving for unity.

“The sign of this day is all about the legacy of unity,” Williams said. 

Williams noted that students were present from Abilene’s three universities–Abilene Christian Hardin-Simmons, and McMurry, as well as people of different races and backgrounds.

“Look at the diversity that exists in this crowd today,” Williams said. 

Dudley was named police chief effective Jan. 1, 2021, just six weeks before the big freeze hit, paralyzing the city and much of the state in mid-February. Dudley, who moved to Abilene from Aurora, Colorado, joked that Williams had lied to him about one thing–he said Abilene rarely got snow. Other than that, Dudley said, the experience has been a good one for him and his family.

“This past year,” he said, “Abilene has made me feel welcomed.”

In Williams’ opening remarks, he touted the late Claudie Royals, who organized the march for 34 years and sought unity among the races for longer than that. His son, Michael T. Royals, has organized the march in recent years. He was in a wheelchair for Monday’s event due to having a foot amputated and got a loud round of applause when he rose from the chair and walked to the microphone. 

A large part of the crowd wore pink T shirts with the words “Living Her Dream” written across the top. Below the script lettering were the words, “Heloise Munson–MLK 2022.” Munson was born Dec. 4, 1935, and died Oct. 28, 2021, at age 85. Both Michael Royals and his sister, Michelle, applauded Munson’s efforts at getting the MLK Jr. Day March established in Abilene.

“She was my dad’s personal body guard,” Michael Royals said.

Top left and top right photos show Thurman Munson with a plaque honoring his late mother, Heloise Munson, during the Martin Luther King Jr. Day march on Monday, Jan. 17. Michael T. Royals got up from his wheelchair to walk to the podium, drawing a round of applause from the audience. In the bottom left photo, Petra Sanchez Pena, 81, proudly wears the red, white, and blue of the American flag. People were encouraged to register to vote during the event. Photos by Loretta Fulton

Michelle Royals recalled that in 1988, the first year of the parade, four people participated. 

“From there it grew and it grew and it kept growing,” she said.

In recent years, the event has drawn several hundred people, including last year when a car parade was held instead of a march due to COVID. Again this year, many participants wore face masks. A table was set up to dispense free masks and bottles of hand sanitizer. Next to it was a table with a large sign that read, “VOTER REGISTRATION.” Many people in the crowd also carried voting rights signs. 

A son of Heloise Munson, Terry Munson, accepted the plaque on behalf of the family. The plaque, which included a picture of Heloise Munson, carried the following wording:

“Presented to the family of Heloise ‘Ouji’ Munson
Honoring her role as a founding member of the Martin Luther King Jr. March ‘88
Her dedication and devotion will be remembered forever!”
It was signed, “Love and Appreciation, The Royals Family.”

Loretta Fulton is creator and editor of Spirit of Abilene 

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