50 years after 'Dream' speech, MLK's ties to Dallas are remembered




Posted on August 28, 2013 at 11:21 PM

Updated Thursday, Aug 29 at 2:40 AM

DALLAS — Before the March on Washington in 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made a few trips to Dallas. He wasn't welcomed by all, but those who heard him speak were forever changed.

"Excitement... sheer excitement," recalled Tisha Horn, as she sat at a piano inside a sanctuary.

Horn is the music director at Good Street Baptist Church on Bonnie View Road. It isn't the same location and it isn't the same church building.  But she and a handful of others are the same church members who heard Dr. Martin Luther King preach in Dallas.

"My whole family was there," recalled Patricia Taplett Hawkins, who was a teenager in 1956.  King made more than one visit to Good Street, and she has family photos from one of his trips.

"He was one of those unique people who had the ability to make you feel —  even though he was speaking to millions of people —  that he was talking to you," she said. 

Hawkins choked up talking about the turbulent times when she grew up. "You're seeing people that hate you... hate you so much, that they'd kill," she said. 

King preached love, tolerance, and justice.

"It wasn't just a black thing.  It was a humanity thing," Hawkins said. "He was bringing people together, causing people to think. I was a teenager and I knew there were ministers in Dallas that didn't want him here. There were churches that wouldn't accept him."

"Any time someone wants to be inclusive or share power, then they're a threat to the power, and people saw him as a threat," she added.

Dallas was a different place during those times, said Peter Johnson, who moved to the city after the King assassination.  He was 18 years old in 1963, and marched on Washington with Dr. King and 200,000 other people, riding to the Nation's Capital from his native Louisiana by bus.

"Just getting to Washington was dangerous," he said.  "We were getting shot at."

"Once there, I climbed up in a tree and I looked back across the Washington Mall and I could see whites and blacks and browns," Johnson recalled, "and it was a tearful moment."

"Then I was under the feet of Abraham Lincoln when Dr. King spoke," said before launching into the story of how a gospel singer named Mahalia Jackson convinced King to go off his script and talk about his dream. 

"We could hear her say, 'Martin, Martin, tell them about your dream!  Martin, tell them about your dream!'  And Dr. King looked back. We could see when he closed the text of his speech, leaned back, and began to talk about his dream, in that marvelous baritone voice," Johnson recalled. "When he began to speak from his heart about our America."

After the March, Johnson began working for King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference.  The SCLC moved him to Dallas after the civil rights leader was gunned down in Memphis.

"I didn't want to come here; we had called Dallas a cesspool of racism," Johnson said. "But there was a handful of Anglo business people who realized that change was coming, and that instead of fighting against this inevitable change, they'd work with people like me. And it was very, very unpopular.

Johnson knew the same Dallas Patricia Taplett Hawkins knew: One that was not kind to King's message.  But he has seen the city change. And both say hearing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. —  the beacon of change — speak in person, made them better people.

"When I think of Dr. King, I think of him as a special, God-sent person," Hawkins said. "God chose him for his time, our time, because I lived it. It shaped how I raised my sons, so I'm better.  And the world is better."

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