Victorians come together for MLK march, program
One of Summie Thomas' most vivid memories of racism came in the late 1950s.
Thomas, who was 23 at the time, was working for a family in Cuero when the family's matriarch died.
On the day of the funeral, Thomas said she got as far as the church vestibule before a church employee stopped her.
"He said, 'This is as far as you can go. You can't come into the church,'" said 75-year-old Thomas, who looked dejected as she told the story. "That hurt my heart."
"I'll never forget that. I think about that every time I go to Cuero."
Dressed in a snappy red blazer with red flats and a complementary black-and-red print skirt, a petite Thomas told her heart-wrenching story on Monday, while standing on the front steps of Webster Chapel United Methodist Church, the site of the 19th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day program.
"By Martin Luther King doing what he did, he made it better for my generation than it was for our forefathers' generation. Now, it's even better than it was for my generation. With God's help, it's going to be even better in the future," said Thomas. "All we have to do is keep praying."
The program is organized annually by the Old Landmark Committee.
"They need to know about the heritage," said Sandra Avery, 69, president and founder of the Old Landmark Committee, said about her efforts to educate the youth about King and black history. "As long as I'm able, I'm going to make sure they know."
The lyrics of "This Little Light of Mine" and "We Shall Overcome" filled the air as men, women and children of all races made the nearly 10 minute walk from the parking lot of St. Mary's Catholic Church to Webster Chapel in remembrance of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
"I think it's an important place to be," said the Rev. Wanda Ritchea, 56, director of United Campus Ministries at UHV and Victoria College, who participated in the march with her walking stick. "Part of the thing we need to remember is the history of the Civil Rights Movement and nonviolent protest. We're all human beings created by God to love each other."
During the program, area praise dancers and gospel groups performed and pastors preached messages of unity and progress.
"(King) displayed that even while living in a time of so much hatred and chaos between races, he kept the faith, sure of what he hoped for - equality," said the Rev. Zettie Woodson, of Webster Chapel. "He wished that one day we would all be able to get along in society even though he was put through so much pain."
"America, we have to dream as a nation," said the Rev. Kamire Morris, of Bethel Baptist Church in Rockport. "Together we will succeed."
The Rev. Terrence K. Hayes, of Webster Chapel, also addressed the state of race relations.
"So what you have a black president? Racism and sexism are still around. The Klan still marches in Texas. In Jasper, Texas, they drug a black man to his death. Racism is still there," said Hayes. "When you stand up and fight against the ignorance that man has contrived, then you are doing what God wants you to do."
Victoria resident Rey Herrera credited King and the Civil Rights Movement with making it possible for Hispanics and blacks to receive management jobs at the plant where he worked for more than 37 years.
"A lot of things we are blessed with because someone was thinking toward the future," said Herrera, 62. "They opened doors for those who were worthy and capable of that type of work."
Meanwhile, Mel Todd recalled her days working at Houston-area schools as a janitor during the time of school integration.
"(The black students) came to me for help, and I was there to help them. It runs chills over me to remember how those kids were treated," said Todd, 83. "When President Kennedy died, we were there crying together."
Attendees shared their thoughts on the program.
"I think it's important to honor Dr. King's contribution to history and his efforts for equality in our world. As a nation, we have made great strides, but we still have along way to go," said Lucy Herrera, 62, of Victoria.
"They have a lot of freedom and choices. Our ancestors didn't have those choices," said Michelle Peoples, 40, of Victoria. "Racism still exists today. It is just shadowed in different ways. We have to make them understand that."
Mackalia Peoples, Michelle People's daughter, said she has learned a lot about King.
"He tried to defend us," said the soft-spoken 11-year-old with pigtails. "He tried to help us gain freedom."
Woodson offered these parting words to attendees, "Martin Luther King had faith where he could see and he knew what was ahead of him. We've come this far by faith. We need to keep that faith to keep going and keep the dream alive."