What was billed as a region-wide celebration of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., has drawn fire from local civil rights groups and community activists. They’re angry over the inclusion of Gov. Greg Abbott as an honorary grand marshal of the Toyota North Texas Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parade & Celebration, which is scheduled for next Monday in Arlington.
Dominique Alexander from the Next Generation Action Network said he was shocked when he heard Abbott was given top billing at the festivities.
“We will not tolerate this, and we call for an effective boycott of the North Texas Martin Luther King Parade,” Alexander said, calling the decision an “insult to the black community.”
Alexander says he and others are planning to protest the event.
The Arlington chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said Abbott’s inclusion, “stings with hypocrisy.” In a statement, the group said Abbott has “done more to damage and undermine African-American and Latino civil and voter rights, educational opportunities and economic empowerment than any other modern-day Texas governor.”
The NAACP will hold a town hall meeting on Thursday evening to discuss the parade.
Rev. Jeff Hood said Martin Luther King stood up for the rights of poor and marginalized people and that they should be front and center in the parade.
“Right now, with Greg Abbott being the grand marshal, we don’t have a keeper of the dream, we have a killer of the dream,” he said.
“The governor is the governor,” said parade spokeswoman Winsor Barbee. “He is our top elected official for the state of Texas,” which is why the organizers invited him to participate.
Barbee said part of King’s legacy is engaging with people even when you don’t agree with them, and that participation shouldn’t be seen as an endorsement of any particular policies.
Retired Tarrant County District Judge Clifford Davis, a civil rights lawyer, will serve as grand marshal for the parade, which is intended to unite six counties into one regional celebration. There are a range of activities leading up to the parade, which will include floats, bands, elected officials and car clubs.
A spokeswoman for the governor said Abbott looks forward to honoring Dr. King’s legacy and reflecting on “the triumphs, tragedies, and lessons of the past.”
“It’s a shame that some are politicizing what should be a unifying event,” said Ciara Matthews, deputy communications director for the governor’s office.
“I am at odds with the governor’s policies. This is not politics,” said Ruby Fay Woolridge, an Arlington community activist who’s running for Congress in the 6th district. The Democrat says Abbott’s support for voter ID laws and defense of gerrymandered districts undermines the voting power of people of color.
“Those policies, as well as [his opposition to] expanding Medicaid, those things hurt the African-American community. Let’s be clear about that,” she said.
Woolridge says she hopes that if Abbott does take part in the parade, he’ll also sit down with local civil rights leaders and community groups to talk about the impact of his policies.