About 200 people gathered in downtown Victoria to celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a march and service Monday morning.

Visiting in the parking lot before the march, Ann Roos said she decided to take part in the march because King was such an important person as one of the leaders of the country.

“He could have been president, in my opinion. He’s at the top of the list for his brilliancy, writing and speaking,” Roos said. “We need to work together and live together. Different nationalities and races have to come together.”

With Roos, Mary Stahoviak, 66, a retired Victoria College English professor and member of the Unitarian Universalist Church, said her congregation is devoted to equal rights. The church promotes the idea of interconnectedness and equality, she said.

“Everyone needs to have a voice,” Stahoviak said.

Nearby, Sister Kathleen Goike, 67, said she is a firm believer in the cause.

“All people are created in the likeness of God. We all have dignity. We all are one,” she said. “In his talks, he (King) says, ‘I have a dream’ that we will all join hands and work together, and that is what this is all about.”

The crowd marched east four blocks on Convent Street from St. Mary’s Catholic Church to Webster Chapel United Methodist Church. As they started moving forward, banners were lifted and individual letters that read, “WE BELIEVE,” were raised high. A lone male voice rang out, “We shall overcome.”

J.J. Craig, chief of the Victoria Police Department, said he has attended all the MLK marches since he arrived in Victoria eight years ago.

“I’m honored to be part of something like this, with all of these people here and the respect shown,” Craig said. “He (King) was one of those transformative leaders, and his legacy lives on. It’s very powerful.”

Bells rang as the marchers arrived at Webster Chapel. With a bullhorn, a man called out, “Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.” Keyboard music filled the air as guests entered the church and filed into pews for the service that included an abundance of guest speakers, singing and dancing.

A prayer was read aloud, “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

Strong and beautiful voices belted out lyrics: “This little light of mine; I’m gonna let it shine...Oh Lord, I still remember what you’ve done for me... Jesus, Jesus, Jesus; got Him on my mind...It’s already done.”

Vanessa Hicks-Callaway said King was the greatest American who ever lived.

“His life and legacy are worthy of recognition, and that’s why I’m here today,” she said. “Any success I’ve ever had can be attributed to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the work he did during the civil rights movement, and I do not take anything for granted.”

Hicks-Callaway addressed the crowd, “Ladies and gentlemen, I have a great announcement for you today. I believe that we have overcome. I do not want to take the sacrifice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for granted. Because if I don’t acknowledge right now that we have overcome, in Vanessa’s book, that means that we do not believe that we have overcome.”

She continued that his sacrifice has meant a “great deal” to her.

“We have overcome because, ladies and gentlemen, if I go to Selma, Alabama, right now – guess what – I can make that march of 54 miles all the way to Montgomery. Nobody is going to stop me. I have overcome,” she said. “Also, I can go anywhere I want to go in Victoria, Texas, and sit anywhere I want to sit, eat anywhere I want to eat. We have overcome.”

Hicks-Callaway credited the accomplishments of King and others during the civil rights movement with the obstacles overcome today.

“There are many warriors right here in this room that marched and put up with a lot on behalf of the civil rights movement,” she said. “I want to thank each and every one of you – the Sandra Averys of the world.”

Avery is the founder of the Old Landmark Committee that organizes the march and service and various other events throughout the year.

Hicks-Callaway compared the end of King’s address at Bishop Charles Mason Temple to Moses not entering the Promised Land.

“Well, I don’t know what will happen now; we’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life – longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain,” King said.

“What Martin Luther King meant was that he’s looking at the America of the future. He saw the Promised Land. He saw what we have right now in 21st century America,” she said. “We have a great country, make no mistake about that, and I believe that 21st century America is the Promised Land that Dr. Martin Luther King peeked over into and saw.”

Hicks-Callaway is running against Rep. Geanie Morrison for state representative for District 30 in the Republican primary.

Elena Anita Watts covers arts, culture and entertainment for the Victoria Advocate. 

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