UT President tells story of MLK's speech at UT, a 'turning point' for University

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have been 90 years old this year.  The peaceful civil rights leader's life was cut short in 1968 but his legacy lives on inspiring generation after generation.

UT President Gregory Fenves took the stage next to the MLK statue on campus Monday morning to kick off the annual celebration of Dr. King's life and legacy.  

Fenves told the story of MLK's speech at UT in March of 1962.  The University had started enrolling African Americans six years prior but the students still couldn't participate in clubs or associations or even stay in many dorms.

"Now this was the climate that Dr. King entered into when he spoke to a packed room of 1.200 people at the Texas Union just up the hill behind us.  It was a turning point in our history as a University.  One where UT had the choice to push forward, to better ourselves or would we turn back to fear, hate and inequity?" Fenves said.

As time went on, Dr. Fenves pointed out the practices of subjugation that had defined society started to wither.  Fenves gave credit to good people who demanded change.

Austin's new Fire Department Chief Joel Baker was one of the many honored guests.

Baker is Austin's first African-American fire chief.

"He had a great message you know, love, peace, harmony.  I think we need to continue with that love, peace and harmony," Baker said.

Austin Police Chief Brian Manley attended as well.

"I think as a country we're very divided, we're divided socially, we're divided politically and I think events like this that remind us of who fought for equality, who fought for justice and really who gave their life for it," Manley said.

Speaking of "generation after generation" -- per tradition the rally at UT featured a young speaker, the first place winner of the MLK Oratory contest: 4th grader Bradon Owens.

"Thanks to Dr. King, people of color don't have to go through the things that happened long ago.  But today we are still racially profiled even in our own communities," Owens said.  

As thousands marched from UT to Huston-Tillotson, Fox 7 Austin caught up with new Austin City Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison.

"You know I've got my little kids with me, they're 8 and 9 and they understand and appreciate the implications of a person giving their all for the mission and the goal of equity and truth and justice so it's fantastic.  Have you seen this crowd?" Harper-Madison said.

And finally, the festival at Huston-Tillotson.

Great food (and it's Austin so great live music) from the songbook of bands like The Isley Brothers and The Gap Band.

"In a land that's so divided, so filled with strife, this community and coming together...it's pretty important to me and I wanted to show the kids that 'hey we can come together, we can have a good time and we can get some good food,'" said Austinite Larry Moore.