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Minority leaders call for boycott of Texas MLK Day parade because GOP governor will be grand marshal

Minority leaders are calling for a boycott of a Martin Luther King Jr. parade in Arlington, Texas, because its honorary grand marshal is Texas GOP Gov. Greg Abbott. (Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images)

Protestors are calling for a boycott of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in Arlington, Texas, next week because the event's organizers invited Republican Gov. Greg Abbott to serve as its honorary grand marshal.

The Toyota North Texas Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parade & Celebration set for Jan. 15 is intended to bring together six area counties — Tarrant, Dallas, Denton, Ellis, Kaufman, and Collin, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.

Dallas-Fort Worth-area civil rights organizations are criticizing the organizers for inviting the Texas governor who grew up in Duncanville, a Dallas suburb that's less than 20 miles from Arlington.

Activists say Abbott helped pass legislation that opposes civil rights, including stricter voter-ID laws and Texas' anti-sanctuary cities bill.

The Arlington NAACP will hold a town hall meeting Thursday to decide how it will respond Abbott riding in the parade as honorary grand marshal.

“Gov. Abbott’s support of the legislation, his policies, that have negatively impacted communities of color ... are not in line with Dr. King’s work or his philosophy,” Arlington NAACP President Alisa Simmons said, according to the Star-Telegram.

What are the critics saying?

"We definitely will protest this event if he is not removed," Dallas activist Dominique Alexander said during a news conference Monday afternoon, WFAA-TV reported.

"We support a collective protest against a Governor whose past legislative actions are viewed as an attack on the civil rights of all," the Arlington Chapter of the NAACP said in a statement.

Abbott “not only hasn’t stood for the ideals of Martin Luther King Jr. but has stood against the ideals of Martin Luther King Jr.,” said the Rev. Dr. Jeff Hood, who participated in the news conference calling for the boycott. “We don’t have a keeper of the dream. We have a killer of the dream.”

Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa told The Dallas Observer in a statement:

Republican Governor Greg Abbott has done everything he can to hold back the advancement of African Americans and people of color in Texas. In fact, Greg Abbott built his Republican bona fides by destroying the Voting Rights Act and attacking President Barack Obama, our nation’s first African American president. From racist voter ID laws and illegal gerrymandering that silences voters at the ballot box, to SB4, the Arizona-style show me your papers law that instills fear in our immigrant communities, Abbott has actively stripped away the civil, human and voting rights of Texans.

What are supporters saying?

Kyev Tatum, president of the Tarrant County chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference told the Star-Telegram that he will be participating in the parade.

“MLK Day is a day to try to make your enemies your friends,” Tatum said, adding that many are pleased to have the governor participate.

What do the parade's organizers say?

Parade organizer Winsor Barbee told WFAA on Monday that she was aware of the boycott. She did not clarify who invited Abbott to participate.

"Bottom line, the parade is going on as planned," Barbee said.

Barbee told the Star-Telegram the parade is designed to be inclusive.

“Everyone is going to boycott a man,” she said. “If people think Dr. King would want them to do that, then they should.”

Is Abbott still planning on participating?

So far, Abbott has not canceled his plans to participate.

“The parade is an opportunity to celebrate and honor the life and legacy of Dr. King and reflect on the triumphs, tragedies, and lessons of the past,” Abbott’s deputy communications director Ciara Matthews said in a statement. “It’s a shame that some are politicizing what should be a unifying event.

“Governor Abbott’s participation will be focused on the remembrance of a man who made an important mark on history, and he looks forward to attending this event.”

Abbott was expected to ride on a float with Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson and Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson, according to the Star-Telegram. Some reports are claiming that the two DAs are trying to distance themselves from the event and the governor, while others are calling it misinformation.

In a statement, Wilson said she was unaware of her involvement in the parade until she saw media reports about it.

“It’s never been my personal practice to participate in parades,” Wilson said. “I believe my community outreach is better served by being able to listen to individuals in more personal settings.”

Johnson, who plans to serve as grand marshal in the Dallas MLK Day parade, told the Star-Telegram that organizers did ask her to participate in the Arlington event.

“DA Johnson told the Arlington organizers, if she were to participate in their parade, at most she could offer was to be at the very end as the citizens of Dallas take precedent,” a statement from her office said.

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