Grand Prairie – Nearly 60 years after the historic March on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famed “I Have a Dream” speech, Grand Prairie city officials announced the renaming of a major thoroughfare in remembrance of the celebrated Nobel Peace Prize recipient.
Council members voted last month to rename the street as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard and city officials and community residents gathered Saturday morning to dedicate new signage for 19th Street.
The observance came on the anniversary of the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. That rally, held Aug. 28, 1963, drew more than 250,000 people – the largest crowd ever at that time – to the nation’s Capitol in a call for economic justice and voting rights for Black Americans.
Organizers said Saturday the historical significance of the 1963 March was not unnoticed.
“We’re excited because this day…is the 58th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s March on Washington,” the Rev. Denny Davis, pastor of St. John Church Unleashed in Grand Prairie, said to those gathered at David Daniels Elementary Academy of Math and Science for the street dedication.
“It was that march that inspired President (John F.) Kennedy to go forth on civil rights legislation,” said Davis, who offered opening remarks for the event. “We come today to dedicate 19th Street in honor and in memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”
Across the country, thousands of Americans rallied in cities and rural communities to commemorate the 1963 March on Washington and to renew calls for expanding – not limiting – Americans’ access to voting.
In Washington, D.C., 75,000 people were expected on the National Mall Saturday for the “March On for Voting Rights,” an event that featured Dr. King’s son, Martin Luther King, III.
Dr. King’s 13-year-old granddaughter, Yolanda Renee King, who also spoke during the program, said limiting voting rights is “unacceptable.”
“It’s easier to register to own a gun than it is to register to vote,” she said. “Think about that. If you are a Congressperson protecting firearms, why won’t you protect the right to vote?”
Similar rallies were held outside City Hall in St. Petersburg, Fla., the King Center in Atlanta, and other cities and towns across the country.
In Mississippi, the Chickasaw Inkana Foundation in Tupelo hosted a panel discussion to form plans to tangibly carry out Dr. King’s vision for his “beloved community,” the Daily Journal, a Northern Mississippi newspaper reported in its Saturday morning e-edition.
Many of those who gathered at rallies Saturday called on the U.S. Senate to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which members of the House of Representatives passed earlier this year.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Saturday on her official Twitter account that 58 years after the March On Washington, “Americans are marching again today for our democracy.”
“With state laws disenfranchising voters and making it harder to vote, we need the Senate to pass the For the People Act and the House-passed John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act,” Pelosi tweeted.
She was joined Saturday by African American civil rights organizations, including the NAACP, and national service sororities, in encouraging their members to call their respective senators and demand immediate passage of the bills.
Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., a national sisterhood of 350,000 initiated members, emailed its “Sorors” late Saturday evening alerting them that the national Sorority had called on “Senate leadership to eliminate the filibuster, so these crucial bills have a chance at passage.”
“An antiquated procedural tactic should not stand in the way of essential voting rights protections for all Americans,” the email read.
“Delta Sigma Theta asks all members and allies to contact their U.S. Senators and demand passage of the For the People and John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Acts,” the email read. “The time to act is now. We cannot wait any longer for Congress to ensure access to the ballot box for all citizens, restore the full protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and stop insidious attempts to suppress the votes of citizens of color.”
In Grand Prairie, Mayor Ron Jensen, who is white, told the diverse crowd that he recognized the nation’s racial divide, but that it could be bridged.
In an interview with Texas Metro News after the mayor addressed the group, he said he had less influence over national and state decisions but could influence his neighbors and constituents who are local.
“I can’t worry about what’s going on in Washington or in Austin,” he said after Saturday’s ceremonies ended. “I have things I can do in Grand Prairie to promote unity.”
He said the renaming of 19th Street – a mile and a half stretch of roadway that runs north and south through Grand Prairie – would show “everybody in this city we value you.”
“We’re an inclusive city,” the 70-year-old mayor said.
Others in attendance celebrated the street renaming as a milestone in race relations in Grand Prairie.
Vandella Menifee, who moved to the city from Atlanta 15 years ago, said she doubted that a vote to approve a street renaming after an African American would have happened in previous years.
“The city has really changed since Ron Jensen became mayor,” she said. “When he says ‘Things need to come together,’ he means it.”
Jonathan Mendez, 30, grew up in Dalworth, the historic Black community of Grand Prairie, and home to a stretch of 19th Street.
“The renaming of the street is awesome,” he said, fanning his head and wiping away sweat from his face. “It’s going to be life-changing.”
“Martin Luther King wanted everybody to come together as a nation,” he said. The street renaming “reminds us of unity.”
Linda Egbuonu, an NAACP member and chair of the local branch’s education committee, agreed.
She said she could see proof of Dr. King’s vision of racial unity at Saturday’s event itself, which was attended by African American residents alongside white and Latino city officials, police officers and others from various backgrounds – all of who clapped loudly upon the unveiling of the street signage.
Looking out at the crowd, Egbuonu called attendance at Saturday’s event “amazing.”
“When Martin Luther King said ‘I have a dream,’ this is one of his dreams,” she said.