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Fort Worth celebrates new MLK Heritage Trails Marker

Posted Jan. 23, 2019

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The Reverend stands by the marker
The Rev. Kyev Tatum shows the marker unveiled in downtown Fort Worth to honor Martin Luther King's 1959 visit to the city.

The Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce Foundation, Visit Fort Worth and the MLK on Main Street Collaborative celebrated a new marker installed Jan. 21 to commemorate Martin Luther King’s only visit in 1959 to Fort Worth.

The marker is part of the Heritage Trails walking tour in downtown with 26 free-standing bronze markers depicting the people, places and events that shaped Fort Worth’s history. The MLK marker is located in General Worth Square at the corner of Ninth and Main streets, between the Fort Worth Convention Center and the John F. Kennedy Tribute.

Special guests were Gary and Anne Lacefield, marker sponsors; and the Rev. K.P. Tatum, Fort Worth pastor and community activist. Gary Lacefield is director of the Institute for Mediation, Arbitration, Strategic Studies and Forensics at Tarleton State University. The TCU Vocal Jazz Ensemble performed at the marker ceremony, prior to the annual MLK Day parade downtown.

“With the unveiling of the new MLK Heritage Trail Marker, Fort Worth will become the first city in the nation to honor civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Main Street,” Tatum said.

“Remembering our history encourages us to look at our progress with thanksgiving, but challenges us to never take our eyes off the mountaintop, as Dr. King said, especially as our city moves forward with race and culture discussions to examine how we can continually improve Fort Worth with the vision of being the most inviting and prosperous city for all,” said Bill Thornton, president and CEO of the Fort Worth Chamber.

King was invited to Fort Worth by the late Vada Felder, a local activist and first African-American to graduate from Brite College of the Bible. Felder befriended King at a church meeting in Nashville and invited him to deliver a sermon in Fort Worth later that year.

King spoke at the Majestic Theater at 1101 Commerce St. On that occasion, the theater was integrated when African-Americans were, for the first time, allowed to enter through the front door and sit in the lower seats.

Text on the marker

“A Great Time To Be Alive” On October 22, 1959, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., pastor, civil rights leader and president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) made his only visit to Fort Worth, Texas. Dr. Vada Phillips Felder, local educator, activist, and friend of Dr. King’s had invited him to Fort Worth when they both attended a church conference in Nashville. Upon his arrival, Dr. King was greeted by African American community leaders. He also experienced some anger, hate and bomb threats. He stayed upstairs in Vada Felder’s home on Stewart Street, and attended a reception at the Bellaire Drive West home of the Revs. Alberta and Harold Lunger, Professor of Social Ethics, Brite College of the Bible (now Brite Divinity School) at Texas Christian University. That evening four hundred people were in attendance when Dr. King spoke at the historic Majestic Theater at 1101 Commerce Street. On that occasion the theater was integrated when African Americans were, for the first time, allowed to enter through the front door and sit in the lower seats.

In 1954 Vada Felder was the first African American to graduate from Brite College of the Bible with a Masters of Religious Education. She was a member of Mount Zion Baptist Church for over 50 years, authored Christian Education materials, founded and operated United Christian Leadership School, and taught in Fort Worth’s James Guinn Elementary School and at Bishop College. She said that Dr. King’s visit “… gave us courage. He taught us that we could stand up and do what was right — and do it in peace.”

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