Texas Remembers MLK’s Assassination 50 Years Later

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As the country honors the 50th anniversary of the assassination of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Texans reflect on his impact in the Lone Star State.

Two days after his death, Wilhelmina Delco became the first African-American elected to citywide office in Austin. She said the sympathy that came with his murder implored the community to the city’s school board.

“We had no way of knowing what the reaction was of people who had never voted for a black before,” Delco shared. She said his speeches “wouldn’t have made a difference” in her local race, but his death was a factor for a grieving city.

She went on to serve 10 terms in the Texas House of Representatives.

Despite King’s success in moving the needle and pushing for equal rights, there are still shortcomings. Residents of Abilene elected their first African-American mayor in 2017.

“I was elected by the community, of which most of the voters are Anglo,” Abilene Mayor Anthony Williams said. “I think that’ makes a statement in itself.”

He said his election is a sign that there is slow but steady progress.

“Can we really live in a way where a person is evaluated or praised based on who she or who he is, not based on what the pigment of their skin looks like” he asked of King’s dream. “That was an ambitious dream 50 years ago, and it still one that’s ambitious today.”

“There’s still a lot of work to be done if we are to realize the dream Dr. King had,” Williams added.

King’s impact on Texas might be strongest in one of the state’s most famous natives: President Lyndon Johnson.

“President Johnson at the beginning of his presidency, invited Dr. King to give him any ideas he might have about furthering the progress of civil rights, and Dr. Kim took him up on that offer, they had a very close association throughout the course of LBJ’s five year presidency,” Mark Updegrove, president and CEO of the LBJ Foundation said.

The LBJ Presidential Library is home to a letter written by Johnson to King’s widow, Corretta Scott King the day after King was killed.

“It’s so important that we remember the extraordinary life of Dr. King because it shows what one person can do to affect our history, to introduce reform,” Updegrove said. 

During a television address after King’s death, Johnson said, “The dream of Dr Martin Luther King has not died with him.”

“Men who are white, men who are black, must and will now join together as never in the past, to let all the forces of divisiveness know that America shall not be ruled by the bullet but only by the ballot of free and of just men,” Johnson added.

Martin Luther King, Jr. talks with President Lyndon B. Johnson in the White House Oval Office on Dec. 3, 1963. White House Photo Office LBJ Library photo by Yoichi Okamoto.

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