How We Fought for a Martin Luther King Texas Holiday
It is very interesting how the San Antonio Civil Rights Movement was able to get the State of Texas a Martin Luther King State Holiday. Tactics had to be used that were not used before. For years, delegations traveled to Austin to meet with legislators, the Governor, and the Speaker of the House, and every year they would listen and do nothing. All of the marches, pleas, and protests amounted to little to get the job done. On the national level the Federal government has already established a federal holiday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King in January of 1986, however it would take the threat of “Taking away their football” to get the State of Texas to honor Dr. King.
Photo: (L-R) Governor Ann Richards, Senator Frank Tejeda, Rick Greene, and Mario Marcel Salas celebrating passage of MLK State Holiday in 1991
I was a member of Frontline 2000, a civil and human rights organization when we spearheaded the demand for a Martin Luther King State Holiday by traveling to Austin, Texas, in 1991, and meeting with the Speaker of the Texas House, Gib Lewis. Additional pressure would be needed to force a showdown in Austin. That pressure came when Rick Greene and I called the Players Association of the National Football League and requested that the players refuse to play in Texas if the state would not honor Dr. King. They agreed, and Frontline 2000 members then threatened a lawsuit if any Super Bowl game came to Texas if Dr. King was not going to be honored.
"The tactic of marching was not
going to get it done."
The movement was heated up by Frontline 2000’s attack on VIA Transit for sponsoring a trip to Arizona, when at the time Arizona did not honor Martin Luther King. The group demanded that the city not attend a transit conference and also succeeded in getting the City Council to pass a resolution urging the state to pass a MLK holiday. We were not surprised when some members of the black and brown bourgeoisie (Sell outs) opposed what we were doing. The Chair of the MLK Commission at that time, and one other, were voted down by the community. Under the threat of a tourist boycott, against the City of Houston’s bid for a Super Bowl, the Speaker of the House relented forcing the chair of the Calendars Committee to move the bill forward for a vote.
The tactic of marching was not going to get it done. We had to threaten their economic base. The Texas Senate had already passed it there, but the Texas House was being denied a vote by the chair of the Calendars Committee. Committee chair, Pete Laney, always let the MLK Bill go to the bottom of the stack and not let it come out for a vote. It would take a new strategy to put political and economic pressure on the system. Since the House Speaker appointed Pete Laney, and had power over him, the pressure point had to be with the Texas Speaker.
Frontline 2000 provided the leadership to put pressure on the Speaker to move the bill forward out of committee. The bill became law in 1991 and was signed by Governor Ann Richards, and a ceremony was held in Austin. Other activists and supporters also supported the effort including local activist Renee Watson and many others. It is important to note that Texas would not have passed the bill if not for the threat of taking a proposed Super Bowl and their football away from Houston.
I am proud of the fact that I was part of the Frontline 2000’s drive for making the Texas MLK Holiday a reality.
San Antonio MLK March Photos 2020
Photos by Melonie Morrow