Love in a father’s words honored Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., supporting ‘the dignity of every man’

OKLAHOMA CITY – When I was a boy in the 1960s, our father instructed my four sisters and me concerning the movement Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led: “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.”
My parents, Bruce and Bonnie, revered the man, who spoke in Christ-like terms such as this: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
And this: “Human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of [people] willing to be co-workers with God.”
MLK preached dreams and possibilities which I saw come true in our family and many neighbors: “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

The preacher’s policy vision was shared at the March on Washington in 1963:
“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.”

Reagan believed if we lived by such fundamentals, we could reach the time, as Dr. King said, when “All of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning, ‘… land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.’ “

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One year, at the MLK parade in Oklahoma City, I traded stories with a rider atop a chestnut horse, laughing over the reasons “they always put the horses at the back of the parade.”
Some years it is bitterly cold [during the parade], others it is 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. 

Unexpectedly, the scene before me 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 – the horses high-stepping 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.

With pleasantly cool temperatures forecast after a cold weekend, the 2019 Oklahoma City parade honoring Dr. Martin Luther King is scheduled to step off Monday (January 21) at 2 p.m. along a route revised from that of recent years. At N.W. 6 Street along Walker Avenue, the groups will assemble, then head south to Reno through the heart of the downtown area. 
Other events Monday include the annual breakfast in Midwest City, where state Sen. George Young, D-Oklahoma City, is the featured speaker. The annual Silent March is to begin at 9 a.m. from the eastside Freedom Center, heading to the Oklahoma History Center, where the bell-ringing takes place at 11 a.m. Things shift to St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral on Robinson Avenue for a program that begins at 12:15 p.m., to end as the parade begins. 
Sunday (January 20) scheduled activities included a 3 p.m. service at St. John Missionary Baptist Church on North Kelly Avenue, and an evening “Cross Cultural Program” at Temple B’Nai Israel on N. Pennsylvania Avenue. ( 

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

Note: This is adapted from commentaries previously posted in 2014, and in 2017.