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Martin Luther King Holiday events unfold in Oklahoma City

Northwest Classen High School JROTC

Staff Report

Quietly over many years of evolution in the holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Oklahoma City has evolved broader and broader participation, and now has one of the best-attended and popular MLK Day parades and celebrations in the southwest United States.

Thousands are gathering to honor the civil rights legend whose work helped to extend the promises of liberty to more citizens. The actual anniversary is today (Sunday, January 15), the date of King’s birth in 1929. The federal holiday is observed this year on Monday, January 16.

Kicking off the annual observance today was the 11 a.m. Mass at Corpus Christi Catholic Church in northeast Oklahoma City, just north of the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. The Sunday liturgy was celebrated by the Most Reverend Paul Coakley, archbishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City.

A multi-cultural tribute was scheduled after Mass, at 12:15 p.m. That included liturgical dances performed by students from St. Gregory’s University in Shawnee, youth from the parish, and a troupe representing immigrants from Guatemala, Puerto Rico and Mexico. Mount St. Mary’s High School students were scheduled to preform the “I Have a Dream” speech Dr. King gave in 1963 at the historic March on Washington.

Becky Van Pool, director of Catholic Charities Parish Outreach, said the Catholic community will “join in solidarity with those who are in need, and working for ways to improve their lives. … We are challenged to pray and work for all those who are poor and marginalized.”

Theme of the annual parade is “Together we rise.” However, the parade is not the only event honoring Dr. King’s legacy of non-violence and advocacy of justice. MLK day events in Oklahoma City on Monday, January 16 include:

The Prayer Breakfast: 7 a.m. in the Reed Center, Sheraton Midwest City Hotel, 5800 Will Rogers Road. ($10/person). From I-40, exit Sooner Road, north on Sooner Rd, turn right/east onto Will Rogers Road. Organizers expect 400-500 people for breakfast, speeches and music.

Attendees at the breakfast include U.S. Rep. James Lankford, who planned to attend the event before returning to the nation’s capitol for the first formal congressional sessions of the New Year.

Lankford’s likely opponent in the November general election, Democrat Tom Guild, plans to march in the parade on Monday.
The Silent March: 9 a.m. From the Clara Luper NAACP Freedom Center, 2609 N. MLK Avenue, marching to the Oklahoma History Center, N.E. 23 Street, east of Lincoln Boulevard.

The Bell Ringing: 11 a.m., national bell ringing at Oklahoma’s replica of the Liberty Bell in front of the Oklahoma History Center, north side of N.E. 23 St., just east of Lincoln. Gov. Mary Fallin participated in last year’s ceremony, engaging with local children in discussions about Dr. King’s legacy as she stood with them in a sea of American flags at the Bell.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Coalition Program: Noon at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral, 127 N.W. 7 St. (7th and Robinson). The program will feature a performance of the “Dream” speech, and comments by local opinion leaders.

Parade: Lineup at 1 p.m., with step-off for the parade at 2 p.m. On the streets west of N.W. 7 Street and Robinson Avenue, adjacent to and around St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral. Marchers will move down Broadway to Sheridan, then east through Bricktown to the Coca-Cola Center. Grandstands at N.W. 5 and Broadway.

The King holiday is provoking, as is the case every year, introspection about race relations in America, even as Dr. King’s legacy is praised. At the national level, percolating controversy about the design of the new MLK memorial in the nation’s capital has simmered. Several of the assassinated leader’s most ardent admirers have assailed an inaccurate quotation at the memorial. Officials working for President Barack Obama announced this week changes to the exhibit would be forthcoming.

Here in Oklahoma, some activists, including Nathaniel Batchelder of The Peace House, are joining forces to oppose State Question 759, a ballot proposition slated for November 2012 intended to end race-consciousness in government hiring. Foes say the measure’s strictures would harm progress in minority hiring for government agencies.

Coordinators for the city parade are William Jones and Garland Pruitt. Last year saw scores of marching units, including high school bands, dancers, religious and civic groups, and political leaders. Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps units, including the Northwest Classen High School JROTC corps stepped lively down Broadway Avenue, to the cheers of thousands.

In an interview as he made final preparations for the parade (customarily the conclusion of the official local observances), organizer Pruitt told The City Sentinel parade organizers anticipated more than 114 entries, “and that’s moving up.” Nice weather is forecast, with clear skies, and high temperatures around 70. Last year’s parade, held in cool but pleasant conditions, attracted thousands more than customary.

Laced throughout the 2012 MLK observances in Oklahoma City are words of fond remembrance for civil rights legend Clara Luper, who died last year.
When she passed, among those praising her legacy was Congressman Langford, who told reporters Luper had departed for a “home-going” – an Evangelical Christian expression of confidence about the destination of all who live in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Note: Patrick B. McGuigan contributed to this report.

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