San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

January 19th, 2010
County passes corner to city in King observance

011910kingmarchMonday’s Martin Luther King Day march as it passed down San Antonio Street in downtown San Marcos. Photo by Sean Batura.

By SEAN BATURA
News Reporter

Local residents of different racial and ethnic backgrounds marched together in solidarity through downtown San Marcos Monday morning to commemorate the successes won and hardships borne during the American civil rights movement.

San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz and Hays County Judge Liz Sumter (D-Wimberley) traded spots on the steps of the Hays County Courthouse steps to proclaim the day as a time to remember the vision and victories of American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

The Annointed Voices Choir performed and other local elected officials mingled in the crowd, while children of European descents played nearby with peers whose ancestors were likely among the millions of human beings forced aboard transport ships in Africa and subsequently classified by Congress and many state legislatures in the United States as property until the late 19th century.

After observing the ceremonies on the courthouse lawn, the 100 or so people walked to junction Lyndon Baines Johnson Drive and Martin Luther King Drive. There, Narvaiz and Sumter formally completed the county’s gift to the city — a corner of the intersection for a future monument to Johnson and King. Narvaiz said San Marcos is probably the only city in the country where streets bearing the names of the two men meet.

Johnson, as president, signed the National Voting Rights Act of 1965 at a ceremony attended by King and other civil rights movement leaders. The law banned discriminatory voting practices.

Though King and Johnson were on the same side regarding civil rights, they were not in accord on the other major issue of the day: the Vietnam War. King opposed U.S. military involvement in Vietnam, while Johnson increased the number of U.S. troops deployed there.

Now that the land transfer between the county and city is complete, the LBJ-MLK Crossroads Project Committee is seeking funds for the monument. The committee now expects the project to cost between $100,000-$200,000. San Marcos Arts Council President Kelsey Jones, who is on the project committee, said she hopes to have funding promises from public and private sources by the end of February, and construction completed within a year.

“What we want is something very unique, not just something very prosaic, like a statue,” said Kelsey Jones. “We’re looking at developing all four corners — not putting things, necessarily, on the other corners, but including them in the design so that the intersection itself becomes recognized.”

San Marcos City Councilmember Chris Jones, the only African-American on the council, is also on the project committee. As the marchers paused at the northeast corner of LBJ and MLK, now owned by the city, Jones spoke through a megaphone, asking for help in transforming the intersection “into a place of dignity and hope that reflects the warmth of these two extraordinary men.”

Jones said private businesses own the other corners of the intersection. The committee will decide whether to propose that the city acquire those properties.

After Narvaiz and Sumter completed the formal transfer of property, the marchers continued from the MLK-LBJ intersection to the Dunbar Center for a reception. Hays County Court at Law No. 1 Judge Anna Martinez Boling and her challenger in the Democratic primary election, David Mendoza, both had campaign tables in the reception hall. On the way to the reception, the marchers gathered momentum and sparked discussion amongst onlookers.

Catherine Shellman of San Marcos said she joined the march after spotting the crowd while driving south on Guadalupe Street.

“There’s so few people who’ve touched history like King did,” Shellman said. “And I think it’s important to get involved and show your support for your fellow man … I just felt the spirit in the group and just felt like I wanted to be a part of it and show my support.”

As the marchers passed a white man with a dog and what may have been his two children, he could be heard explaining the meaning of what they were seeing. He told the children that “people of color” had been “treated very badly a long time ago.”

San Marcos High School teacher Jimmy Presley was among the marchers. One of his children walked by his side as he pushed the other in a stroller. Presley said he took part in the event to give his children the kind of experience he said he had been accustomed to while growing up in a primarily black east coast community.

Presley said he worries that American culture puts too much emphasis on instant gratification, which may lead young people to take past human rights achievements for granted and make them blind to recent and current injustices. Presley said he is troubled by a documentary he saw that alleges black voter disenfranchisement in Florida and Ohio in the 2000 and 2004 elections, respectively.

According to a Death Penalty Information Center fact sheet, the odds of receiving a death sentence in some states can increase by 3.5 times among offenders whose victims are white. According to the fact sheet, 41 percent of Texas death row inmates in 2006 were black. Black people comprise 12 percent of the state’s population.

An article published last year in the journal Stanford Law & Policy Review concludes there is a “disparate racial impact of drug control policies” nationwide in the United States. According to the article, black men are sent to state prison for drug offenses at ten times the rate — relative to population — of whites (256.2 per 100,000 black adults as compared to 25.3 per 100,000 white adults).

According to the Stanford Law & Policy Review article, blacks make up 43 percent and whites 55 percent of persons convicted of drug felonies in state courts, while blacks account for 53.5 percent and whites for 33.3 percent of persons admitted to state prison with new drug offense convictions. Blacks comprise about 12.8 percent of the county’s population.

The ratio of black to white drug arrest rates has ranged between 3.5 and 3.9 in the last six years, according to the article. The article also states that although marijuana use is prevalent across races, and methamphetamine is used primarily by whites, blacks continue to be disproportionately arrested.

“The data demonstrate clearly and consistently that blacks have been and remain more likely to be arrested for drug offending behavior relative to their percentage among drug offenders than whites who engage in the same behavior,” states the article. “There are many reasons for the racial disparities in drug arrests, including demographics, the extent of community complaints, police allocation of resources, racial profiling, and the relative ease of making drug arrests in minority urban areas compared to white areas.”

The article said the federal Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 and the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 imposed far greater penalties for possession or sale of crack cocaine than for powder cocaine, because crack cocaine was perceived as a drug of the black inner-city urban poor, and the more expensive powder cocaine was seen as a drug of wealthy whites.

The MLK Day activities in San Marcos were organized by the Dunbar Heritage Association. Wal-Mart provided funds for the event, and Central Texas Medical Center (CTMC) Hospice Care donated funds, cake and utensils. The City of San Marcos provided a cake, and transportation from the Dunbar Center was provided by the First Baptist Church on Mitchell Street and the Pentecostal Temple on Centre Street. The McDonald’s near the outlet malls provided refreshments.

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