Denton paid tribute to the Rev. Martin Luther King on Monday. Locals gathered at Fred Moore Park, the University of North Texas Union and the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center to honor the man they recalled as a pastor, a scholar and a community servant.
The Rev. Henry Thomas, pastor of Hamilton Chapel Baptist Church in Frisco, gave a grateful account of King's religious work on a national holiday commemorating King's birthday.
"Dr. King lived and died so that black men and white men could walk together," Thomas said, after asking the white and Hispanic attendees to rise in the audience at the center. "He died so that would happen. And it's happened. Even though there is someone in the White House who would divide us, we are here together."
Thomas thanked the older men and women in the room for their work during the civil rights movement.
"Thank God so many of you here tonight didn't have to live through those times," Thomas said. "Black people had to sit on the back of the bus. We had to use separate bathrooms, go to separate schools. But those of you who lived through that, thank you."
Thomas said he sees King's dream coming to life all around him. A longtime varsity basketball coach, Thomas said he sees King's hope for equality in interracial dating in high schools, in groups of interracial children together on school playgrounds and in the men and women who marched in Denton on Monday.
"Before Dr. King, we couldn't walk the streets of UNT. We couldn't walk the streets of TWU. We couldn't have walked to the Martin Luther King Center with a police escort," Thomas said. "Today, we walked alongside the police. And I looked over at a white police officer and he smiled at me."
Denton's Martin Luther King Jr. Day began with the traditional flag football games at Fred Moore Park, then moved to UNT for a rally and a march to the recreation center, where attendees shared worship, gospel music and history.
Members of the UNT Eta Epsilon chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity performed a dance at the program and shared some of King's history. King was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, a historically black fraternity.
"This day is so important for those who fought for civil rights," said Austin Ford, a UNT junior and Alpha Phi Alpha member. "And it's important for us to remember that he's still alive and his dream is still alive, even though he's dead."
Akon Ebong, a UNT senior and Alpha Phi Alpha member, said the fraternity encourages members to be involved. And he said he believes the country has moved closer to King's dream.
"There's been progress toward his overall dream for equality for all," Ebong said. "We have the ability to protest injustice without fearing violence."
"There have been set-backs in certain situations," Ford said. "Like in the instance of police brutality. But we're still making progress."
Ebong and Ford said they'd like to see more unity and action outside of national holidays and tragedies.
"It would be great if people would come together without that," Ford said. "Every now and again, we need to be reminded of that."
LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877 and via Twitter at @LBreedingDRC.