Monday morning was the first time De’Lores Arline ever stepped foot on the ground floor of the Texan Theater.
Taking in Kilgore Men of Alliance’s second annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day event in the downtown venue, Arline said she has many fond memories of attending the moviehouse as a girl, back when it was known as the Crim.
She only ever entered it from the side door, though. She was one of many people in Kilgore who, back then, could only watch movies from the balcony – because of the color of their skin.
A ticket was 10 cents or 10 bottle-caps, Arline recalled fondly. The theater was her home away from home on Saturday mornings: “I’ve never gone in this part of it, but I almost lived in this place.”
This year’s MLK Day event was something of a coming home for the Rev. Alvin R. Mayfield as well: his skin color, too, meant a second-tier seat during his boyhood. Granted: the high ground made it easier to find targets for throwing popcorn, he quipped.
“All of us recognize now that times were different than they are now,” Mayfield told a crowd of almost 150 people gathered in theater this week. “That’s where me and folks who looked like me were.
It was 50 years ago, 60 and more: “We’re so glad those days are gone now … Things have changed so much.”
Kilgore City Council member Victor Boyd and the other members of Kilgore Men of Alliance embraced that change in their unity march and celebration this week, sending the second annual parade from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to the theater.
Boyd praised the work by the City of Kilgore that has reclaimed the theater; he credited the Reel East Texas Film Festival for building momentum to bring it back to life. It still needs heat, he said, sharing a laugh with the bundled up audience. The renovations of the theater are underway, though, enabling KMA to screen a documentary-short video about last year’s inaugural event.
“This is a progressing project that we have. We want to take it and make it usable,” Boyd said. “Amazing for a facility that hasn’t been used in almost 35 years.”
Opening Monday’s ceremony, Boyd reminded the audience of the ongoing debate about kneeling during the National Anthem and, as a veteran, reminded them of the men and women who died so people can have that choice.
“A lot of people gave their lives for the freedom that we have this year and every year,” Boyd said. Remembering MLK and struggled for civil rights beside him, “A lot of people died for us to have the rights we have today.
“Those people sacrificed their lives and their liberty so we can be in this auditorium where we once were segregated.”
The 2018 ceremony included proclamations from U.S. Senator John Cornyn alongside Mayor Ronnie Spradlin’s for the City of Kilgore. KMA also presented special honors for six people – Travis Martin, Janie Terrell, Randy Lowry, Peggy Jackson, Amy Samples and Buddy Bryant – and memorials for two Kilgore Men of Alliance members who died in the past year: Paul Gill and Waylon Hunt.
Joe Murphy encouraged the crowd to elevate their thinking and elevate their love in order to come together as King wanted.
“We have come this morning to celebrate a great man,” Murphy reminded the audience. “He was a Christian man, a man who had God in his heart,” and a man who believed in one nation, under God, and of bridging differences.
“If we’re not careful, our differences are going to cause so much division that someone is going to put their thumb on the button and blow this thing up. We’ve got to learn to come together.”
Boyd looks forward to even more participation during 2019’s MLK Day event in the same place – when the Texan has heat, he joked, the people will celebrate that much harder in the venue.
“This integrated audience today probably wouldn’t have come to be if not for the sacrifice of Martin Luther King,” Mayfield told the crowd. Killed all too soon, assassinated almost 50 years ago on April 4, 1968, his legacy persists: “When a great person leaves you it does not kill the memory of all the things he did … Let’s be our best selves, do the very best we can do to make this a better life.”
Samples recalled the past struggles of the black community in Kilgore.
“I’ve seen the segregated bathrooms. I’ve seen the segregated water fountains,” she said. “We thank the Lord that Martin Luther King came through.”
“Martin Luther King did not fight for one race of people. This is a great day to celebrate his legacy in the city of Kilgore. Martin Luther king had a dream. We are living that dream. So let us keep pushing that dream forward.”