Theirs was a message of unity and of change.
For the past 20 years, marchers walked from the courthouse to Bethlehem Baptist Church or Jones Chapel Methodist Church.
This year, on the 21st anniversary of the march, the crowd headed three blocks north toward First United Methodist Church.
Inside, they celebrated as one congregation — race and creed mattered not.
Jesse Robinson stood before them.
He wasn’t there to speak or offer a sermon. He was there to lead the Beeville Men’s Choir in song.
But as he stood and looked out at the crowd that was more diverse than has been seen in many years, he too felt compelled to share his story.
“I too was part of that integration in 1955, and at my age now, I think back, and I have seen a lot of firsts, and I, too, was one of those firsts,” he said.
“I was the first black athlete to make All-State in the state of Texas, and I was honored by the state House of Representatives.
“I too was there when Martin Luther King marched for freedom, and I didn’t understand what was going on.”
Robinson said that, as a boy, he didn’t understand segregation.
“All I saw was friends. I didn’t see color,” he said. “All I knew was that, for some reason, we couldn’t do a lot things other people could do.
“My parents taught us to love.
“We didn’t care what color you were.”
Robinson praised the community leaders, especially the Rev. Larry McRorey of FUMC, the Rev. Eric Tarver of Bethlehem Baptist Church and the Rev. Bettye Whiteside of Jones Chapel United Methodist Church, for the chance to hold the celebration at FUMC.
“I am glad we are having this here at this church,” he said. “I would like to see more churches involved. I would like to see the streets filled up with people.
“We just have to make up our minds that we are going to stand here together.”
Just prior to Robinson, County Judge David Silva stood before this same gathering.
He reminded them that change seldom comes quickly, but the pursuit of equality is worth it.
“It took years to get there, but we are making strides, and we are making progress to achieve that dream,” Silva said.
He noted that Monday morning was even more significant because, not only was it the day to honor King’s memory, but also the day that President Barack Obama was ceremonially sworn into his second term of office.
President Obama was officially sworn in Sunday, as mandated by the Constitution, by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, in the Blue Room of the White House, surrounded by a small group of family and friends. The event was repeated on Monday for spectators, as a mock swearing-in, complete with celebration, inaugural speech and parade.
“I think it is important that we note and remember that changes have occurred,” Silva said, referring to this country being led by its first black president. “At the same time, it is important to note that we are not there yet.
“We remember our past, and we look forward to the task that is yet before us.
“No day can pass that we forget that the dream has yet to be achieved.”
Rev. Howard Mims of William Taylor United Methodist Church in Luling likened this search for equality to that of a cool drink from “a distant well.”
And while it is tempting to enjoy that drink and take credit for the advances of society, everyone must remember it was God who made it possible.
“We ought to re-dig the well that our forebears dug,” he said. “And all of their sacrifices, we ought to pour out to the Lord.”
Jason Collins is the editor at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 121, or at editor@mySouTex.com.