Though planning for Christmas and New Years Day is all most people can manage to do for now, another celebration less than a month away is in the works.

The Gainesville Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration Committee met Monday night to plan the 2007 Martin Luther King Jr. Day events, scheduled Jan. 15.

The theme for the 15th annual event is “A community keeping the dream alive,” said Myrtle Thomas, chairman of the celebration committee.

The usual slate of activities are planned, with a few additions, Thomas said, including a parade down California Street, a celebration with guest speaker, awards ceremony and singing at the Gainesville Civic Center and a children’s’ roller skating party. A church service precedes the day’s events on the preceding Sunday afternoon.

Thomas said the parade serves to remind the public of civil rights activist and preacher Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s marches for racial desegregation and equal treatment in public places for blacks.

“The parade consists of remembering how (King) marched for justice, and he was a non-violent man and wanted to let the people know how to work together and march for a cause,” Thomas said.

She said blacks and whites were segregated in more ways than what is typically remembered in the South. She noted blacks for a time could not vote, sit down to eat at certain restaurants, go to the same school as whites or even take a front seat on an empty bus.

Thomas, a native of Sanger who moved to New Mexico and Colorado in her youth, said she was spared much of the racial segregation of the South, as it was not so pronounced in the Southwest.

“I had never been to an all-black school. We didn’t do that in New Mexico and Colorado — I went to a school with every color,” she said. “But when I crossed that line, coming in to Texas — from Tucamcari to Amarillo — you began to see they had signs that said ‘white’ and ‘black’ for the bathrooms.”

Thomas said she moved to Gainesville in 1969, when many of the goals of the Civil Rights Movement were being achieved. But when she would visit her grandmother in Sanger as a child, she experienced some culture shock. She said she went into a white-owned soda shop and sat down, not knowing at first why she was not served.

“Yes, we’ve come a long way,” Thomas said.

Honoring those who assisted King and other organizers in the Civil Rights Movement is a goal of the celebration. In keeping with that, Thomas said the committee voted to honor the late Rev. Clarence Tucker, the longtime minister of Old Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church in Gainesville who died July 21 in Lancaster.

Tucker is credited for his organization of the MLK Day celebration events in Gainesville.

The youth will also be honored this year, Thomas said, in the form of scholarships. In years past, North Central Texas College gave a scholarship for $500 to the college, and is expected to do so again in 2007. An additional scholarship of $500 was added by the family and friends of Robbie Bradley for use at any college or university.

The scholarships are to be presented at the Gainesville Civic Center, 311 S. Weaver St., following the parade as part of the celebration. Also scheduled for the Civic Center event is a free lunch for the community, speeches and choir singing.

Following the ceremony the children are to be given rides from the Civic Center to Zion Skate Center on U.S. Highway 82 for a roller skating party.

Prior to those events, the parade is scheduled to line up before 10 a.m. by the historic Santa Fe Depot. The route will follow California Street west and turn on Weaver, ending near the Civic Center and Locke Field. Tom Carson, station manager of KGAF-AM, 1580, is slated to be the emcee, as in years past.

“We’ll be very excited and glad for anyone to be in our parade,” Thomas said.

On Sunday a church service is scheduled for the afternoon in the sanctuary of St. James Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, 430 Throckmorton St. The guest speaker is Jerry Edwards of Dallas, a volunteer youth worker at the Gainesville State School.

Questions about the 2007 celebration may be directed to any of the committee members. The committee includes: Thomas, chairman; Mark Thomas, co-chairman; Mary Hunter, treasurer; James Hughes, Ann Hughes and Carolyn Hendricks.

Myrtle Thomas said those interested in singing in a community chorus at the celebration may call her 665-2398. Those interested in entering the parade may call James Hughes at 612-1572.

Reporter Andy Hogue may be contacted at andyhoguegdr[at]ntin.net

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