Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was celebrated on Monday with special gusto this year in Houston, Texas, where the image of President-elect Barack Obama was displayed in parades and community gatherings next to pictures of the slain civil rights leader.
Texas was once a slaveholder state and segregation of blacks was enforced there until the passage of Civil Rights legislation in the mid-1960s. Most young people in Houston say the inauguration of a black president represents a giant step away from that painful past.
The annual Martin Luther King Day parade in downtown Houston is billed as the largest event of its kind in the nation. But it is only one of many activities that took place here today. Thousands of people took part in community gatherings and volunteer projects not only to celebrate the life of Reverend King, but also to carry on his legacy.
This year, many the parade floats and posters seen around town had two African American faces on display, one being that of Martin Luther King, Jr., the other being that of President-elect Barack Obama, whose inauguration takes place in Washington on Tuesday.
Charles Robinson brought his children to watch the parade and to celebrate what he calls a historic moment. "I think it is a great occasion, a grand occasion for celebrating by all people because as we celebrate Martin Luther King Day, Barack Obama as well is looking for equality for all people and that is what we look for in America."
Although the crowds along the parade route were predominantly black, there were significant numbers of whites, Latinos and Asians.
Katrina Lambert, the white mother of a mixed-race daughter, found particular significance in celebrating this year, as a black man prepares to become president. "It is particularly important for me as I look at my daughter and want her to realize that every child has the opportunity. To see Obama elected is really exciting for our family to watch. It is important to look at the history of it and that is what today is all about, [it] is to carry on that history," he said.
The struggle for civil rights that Martin Luther King championed was not as violent and difficult here in Texas as it was in other parts of the South. But the bitterness of that time, a half a century ago, remains for many older people.
Pamela Creight on, a flight attendant, recently moved here from California. She says she grew up in a time when the injustice of segregation was seen as something long gone, but she learned a lot about it from her parents.
"My Dad grew up in Waco, Texas. ]It was] segregated and he went to an all-black high school. He couldn't really go to certain places in Dallas. He remembers that pain. And just to know that your parents went through that, even though our generation, my generation, did not have to go through that, we still understand and associate with it," he said.
Doris Buckley grew up here in Houston and remembers when people were judged by the color of their skin and that black people often were allowed only the lowest-paying jobs. But she says she believes a new day has arrived for everyone. "We are all overwhelmed because of our first African American president. We have moved from the bottom to the top; the first shall be last and the last shall be first."
Buckley says Barack Obama's inauguration represents a milestone in race relations and politics as well as an opportunity to move beyond the bad feelings aroused by the injustice of the past. "Segregation is a thing of the past, we are all one. We need to come together, love each other, work together and live comfortably together."
Around the Houston area on Monday thousands of people volunteered at community food banks and clinics, and in neighborhood cleanup projects. More than a hundred people came together at one clinic to paint a mural on an outside wall that depicts Martin Luther King, Jr. on one side with Barack Obama on the other and the White House in between.