With voices raised in song, men, women and young people marched through the streets of Kilgore Monday morning to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Led and organized by Kilgore Men and Women of Alliance, the procession began at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Building on Martin Luther King Street at 10 a.m. Marchers made their way through downtown Kilgore before stopping at the Texan Theater for a prayer, singing hymns all along the way.
“Always guide us and lead us,” prayed Pastor Joe Murphy of Wayside Church of God & Christ just before the march began.
“Bless our children, bless our leaders, bless our first responders.”
After words of encouragement from Victor Boyd, Kilgore City Councilman, Place 4, the march began its journey towards the Texan, led by Boyd and fellow KMWA member Robert Morgan Jr.
The procession was joined along its route by other groups meeting them along the route.
Upon reaching the theater, the large group went inside to begin the celebration ceremony.
“Each year, Kilgore Men of Alliance wants us to come together and show how much we appreciate Dr. King,” Boyd said as he opened the ceremony.
“In doing so, we want to honor members of our community who have followed in Dr. King’s steps by leading by example and their lifestyles—whatever you do to be a good person in life. Kilgore has so many people who have done just that.”
Boyd noted the MLK Day event, which was first celebrated four years ago, has grown noticeably since its inception.
“As the years go on, Lord willing, every year we will be celebrating with a march of some kind. Next year, we plan on possibly doing some kind of parade. With the amount of people we’ve got here today, we’re growing. This has been the biggest crowd. We want to thank you for coming and sharing in Dr. King’s legacy.”
Christopher Henry, of Kilgore College by way of Dallas, moved the ceremony ahead by delivering a “History Moment” about the life of Dr. King. Henry recounted King’s achievements in organizing thousands of civil rights marchers and activities before his untimely death by assassination in 1968.
Following the historical account, the ceremony moved onto its awards portion.
Roger Adams, a Kilgore High School graduate, former Kilgore College Ranger and football coach, was honored by KMWA for his extensive contributions to local athletics. Several members of the audience were former students of Rogers and honored the coach for helping them improve both on and off the field.
“I appreciate everything that this alliance stands for,” Rogers said, gesturing to the KMWA members behind him onstage, wearing their signature purple shirts.
“God bless you and God bless Kilgore, Texas.”
Member of the Bus 21 Choir, led by driver and KMWA member Robert Morgan, Jr., took up their spaces in front of the theater stage to perform two songs for the audience. As they sang, members of the audience rose from their seats to sing along, cheer, clap and raise their hands to celebrate the inspirational tunes.
The next KMWA award was presented to Lula Johnson, longtime school nurse in Kilgore and the first African-American woman to hold that role in the district.
Boyd said, to him, meeting Johnson as a young student was like encountering a “unicorn” because he had never seen an African-American woman with as much poise, education and selflessness at school. He joked that he got in trouble with his mother for getting sent home with slips for frequent trips to the nurse’s office when he was feeling “sick.”
Local historian and community leader De’Lores Arline introduced Johnson.
Arline said Johnson was adored and admired by the students for her impeccable attire but also dreaded for her role as a school nurse because she had to administer shots to students.
“We were just too young and silly to know that she was one of our guardian angels, sent to protect us from all types of ailments and diseases. That woman was Mrs. Lula Johnson,” Arline said.
Johnson grew up in Longview and graduated from Longview Colored High School in 1954. She attended Homer G. Phillips School of Nursing, the only collegiate school west of the Mississippi to enroll black students during segregation.
Members of the audience who were students during Johnson’s time at KISD stood to honor her as she took the stage.
“To the Men and Women’s Alliance of Kilgore, thank you. This is such a beautiful service to acknowledge Dr. Martin Luther King. As I sat there, I was thinking we have come a long way and still have a long way to go. Thank you so much, keep being good, keep doing well and God is with you,” Johnson said.
The ceremony continued with performances by No Greater Love Dance Ministry, Kilgore College Black Students United, Mrs. Doris Hall-Pellum and awards presented to Howard Stephens and Coach Nina Mata.
To learn more about the Alliance, look up “Kilgore Men and Women of Alliance” on Facebook.