Lafayette celebrated the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday with beautiful weather and words from those who said they see progress and the need for more work in the almost 45 years since the civil rights leader was assassinated.
The King observance coincided with the second inauguration of President Barack Obama. In Lafayette, the significance of the dual events was not lost on participants at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center off Willow Drive. The center featured a wide-screen television tuned to a CNN broadcast of Obama taking the oath of office.
“It’s a beautiful day,” said Larry Brown, a Youngsville resident. “Every day’s a good day, it being Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday, the president’s inauguration.”
Rickey Miniex and his law partner and fellow Lafayette MLK Parade marshal Clyde Simien told about 200 people at the luncheon that King wanted everyone to fight through hardships and succeed.
Miniex and Simien, in their early 50s, are a generation removed from the frontline civil rights marchers and leaders of the 1960s. Still, they said, they had to fight to succeed in a world that is not yet color blind.
Simien said he and Miniex were rejected by bank after bank in Lafayette when they tried to secure a loan to open a law practice in the mid 1980s.
The turndowns from banks came after they mailed hundreds of résumés that boasted top-of-their-law-class bona fides, only to hear a loud silence from the established law firms in return, Simien said.
“Those were some difficult times, but in the back of my mind, I understood the significance of what Dr. King stood for,” Simien said.
He said he and Miniex framed the $7,500 check they finally received from a bank to start their business.
“We never gave up, and that’s the challenge for you today,” Simien said.
Throngs of people attended events at the center Monday, from a morning prayer breakfast to the luncheon to the evening commemorative program.
Outside, children played on the grounds of Dorsey Park.
Inside, grown-ups signed up for wellness programs, had their blood pressure checked and got flu shots. Social organizations signed candidates, Wal-Mart manned a job booth, and a religious group urged others to sign a petition supporting student-led prayer in public schools.
“It’s an opportunity to offer a lot of resources,” said Kenneth Boudreaux, a Lafayette City-Parish councilman.
Boudreaux’s brother Gerald Boudreaux has been chairman of the committee that has organized King ceremonies in Lafayette since 1986, when King’s birthday was first observed as a holiday nationally.
“We’re excited because the community is engaged,” Gerald Boudreaux said.
Miniex recalled returning to his family home as a boy to find his mother crying in the kitchen. The date was April 4, 1968, the day King was killed in Memphis, Tenn.
He said he didn’t understand the significance of King as a boy. He said it took years of living for King’s lessons to sink in.
Miniex said that in the years that King spoke for civil rights, he received threats against him and his family.
“Dr. King fought on, even though he had a wife and young children,” he said.
The audience at the lunch ranged from infants to the elderly, from those who lived through Jim Crow Louisiana to others who would regard whites-only restrictions as laughable.
“I really believe that things are changing, that things are improving,” Miniex said.