Sheldon T. Nunn – For more than twenty years, The City of Houston has celebrated the life and legacy of slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King with two yearly MLK parades. The City’s as well as America’s first parade was organized in 1978 by Ovide Ducantell and the Black Heritage Society. Years later in 1995, the MLK Parade Foundation decided to put forth a second event of a similar nature. Although both parades paid homage to Dr. King, residents of Houston found themselves torn apart as to which event should they support. For twenty years, Houston allowed the two parades to co-exist; coupled with a high degree of controversy, all of which created a vacuum between the two organizations attempting to honor Dr. King’s memory in much the same way. In 2018, Mayor Sylvester Turner decided that the City would support only one event, the parade originally founded by the Black Heritage Society. Mayor Turner stated as a part of his decision: “There are many people who don’t participate on Martin Luther King Day because they don’t want to pick one parade over the other, they don’t support the optics, and they are frustrated by what they see.” He also believes: “A house divided against itself cannot stand, and it is certainly not a reflection of Dr. King’s legacy.” The City’s decision to support one parade is supposed to bring about the largest celebration in the United States; historically, San Antonio, Texas has held that distinction.
Houston’s 2019 parade will be held in downtown Houston on January 21st, where U.S. Congressman John Lewis of Georgia’s 5th Congressional District and Astros outfielder George Springer will serve as Grand Marshalls. This year’s event will also honor the memory of Ovide Duncantell, who was one of the City’s most prolific civil rights activist. He passed away in 2018 and in a way his fight for African Americans has come full circle, just as it did in 1978 with the first MLK celebration. The parade is set for 10:am on January 21st.
Although Mayor Turner has placed his support behind the Black Heritage Society, officials supporting the MLK Grand Parade contend they too will maintain their original posture with a second parade. They have been granted a permit to parade at the same time as the City’s official parade, but will travel through Midtown section of Houston. Charles Stamps, who founded the MLK Grande Parade Foundation in the mid-1990s has emphasized that no one event will ever take place. He believes there is enough room for two parades honoring Dr. Martin Luther King’s contributions to civil rights.