Remembering the man who helped make real ‘the promises of democracy’


Patrick B. McGuigan | Oklahoma Watchdog

OKLAHOMA CITY – When I was a boy in the 1960s, our father instructed my four sisters and me concerning the movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

SHARING A DREAM: Oklahoma Speaker of the House T. W. Shannon, R-Lawton: “We live in a society where nearly 64 million Americans receive daily food, housing, education and healthcare assistance from the federal government. … Where is the courage to say that the best social program is a good job that breeds independence and human dignity?”

“This family believes in the Constitution of the United States. We support the dignity of every man, and his right to live free, under Almighty God,” he said.

My parents revered the man, who spoke in Christ-like terms:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

The preacher’s policy vision was shared at the March on Washington:

“We have … come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice.”

Before President Ronald Reagan signed legislation creating the Martin Luther King holiday in 1983, he commented, “Traces of bigotry still mar America. So, each year on Martin Luther King Day, let us not only recall Dr. King, but rededicate ourselves to the Commandments he believed in and sought to live every day: Thou shall love thy God with all thy heart, and thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself.”

Last year, Oklahoma Speaker of the House T.W. Shannon reflected, in a column posted on CapitolBeatOK , that each new regulation provides citizens with less freedom — and yet government continues to grow.

“Where is the courage to proclaim that incentivizing dependence on government is offensive, soul crushing and devastating to our children and our economy? Where is the courage to say that the best social program is a good job that breeds independence and human dignity?” Shannon asked.

Freedom rings hereabouts on the day designated in MLK’s honor. There is a silent march, culminating in ringing of a liberty bell at the history center.

From across the state and region, they come to downtown Oklahoma City for the parade in his honor: Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, civic clubs and church groups, labor unions and small businesses; politicians, mostly Democrats, but also Republicans. This year, county affiliates for both parties will march through the heart of town.

The crowd lines up at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral. Familiar faces from the Northwest Classen High School Junior ROTC contingent, likely carrying a massive American flag; the bands from Frederick A. Douglas and Star Spencer High Schools, the Peace House and scores of others will step off at the designated hour. Along Robinson Avenue, equestrian units — the heirs of black cowboys of centuries past — will patiently wait their turn.

Some years it’s bitterly cold, others it’s pleasant.

For the 2012 parade, the weather was cool even as the sun warmed us.

After the hubbub of the parade, I drank coffee on Hudson Avenue, sitting “al fresco,” looking east as the sun settled behind me. It grew colder as shadows lengthened.

Hot liquid countered the chill. A rider passed by atop a beautiful dark horse. Tall in the saddle in his black Stetson, the cowpoke advanced north, headed to where his EastSide Roundup Club had parked horse trailers. With him, in front, seated upright and protected in the older man’s arms, was a little girl, pretty in pink, her face combining joy with wide-eyed concern.

It became a brief, personal MLK parade. Two dozen riders passed by in groups of two or three, laughing and waving back at the coffee drinker. They got the joke, passing in stately review for a crowd of one. Most stayed in the street, and cars halted at corner stop signs to let them advance.

A few riders passed through the grass bordering Hudson northwest of the federal building. One young man, hatless, stopped directly across from me, then like an Olympic champion took his steed on a sideways canter for 40 yards, straightening the course at a street’s edge.

There was no camera, so memory suffices for a unique, Oklahoma kind of moment, watching black cowboys after a long parade on a good day, peaceful, meaningful and tender.

I honor King and remember my father, a man who worked and lived in a context, and a time of consequence, yearning for the day all Americans would be judged by “the content of their character.”

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