Ovide Duncantell has always had a heart for his community and a sincere passion for public service. Duncantell has provided no greater example of commitment to the community, as the one he has shown the Greater Houston area for 40 years.
In 1974, Duncantell founded the Black Heritage Society (BHS), a non-profit organization with the primary mission of keeping the dream and spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. alive. One of the efforts that Duncantell has fought to bring to fruition has finally come to pass 33 years after he envisioned it.
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Project-Houston represents a long-awaited effort by Duncantell, who has served as the Black Heritage Society Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, to officially recognize, sustain, and keep the dream and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. alive forever.
Although the initiative was originally slated to be completed in 1980, when all members of the Houston City Council voted to establish a statue of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the corner of MLK Boulevard and Old Spanish Trail. Unfortunately, due to complications and other unknown reasons, the project was stalled and never came to fruition.
Because of his determination and commitment to the legacy of Dr. King, Duncantell planted an oak tree in that location in 1983, in order to keep the memory of Dr. King alive and so no one would ever forget the end goal to build the statue. It was Dr. King’s very own father, Rev. Martin Luther King, Sr., who gave Duncantell the idea to plant the tree in that spot to preserve the legacy.
"It was Dr. King’s father, Rev. King, Sr., who suggested that we plant a tree in the spot we planned to put up the statue," said Duncantell. "Having a statue in MacGregor Park is just an extension of Dr. King’s legacy for everyone in the world to see for years to come."
Having the blessing of Rev. King was not entirely surprising, because back in 1974, it was Duncantell who had become the catalyst behind getting the city of Houston
to have South Park Boulevard renamed to Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard. Because of this gesture towards the memory of his son, Rev. King, Sr. remained close to Duncantell, and made a personal appearance at the official event for the street name change, as well as serving as the grand marshal of the first Black Heritage Society MLK Parade in 1978.
The conversation surrounding the statue remained dormant for years until the Metropolitan Transit Authority (METRO) announced that it was planning to run a rail down MLK Boulevard, through the path in which the memorial tree was located. It was then that Duncantell knew that he had to step up and do something once again to preserve the memory of the slain leader. And what he did was definitely attention-getting and led to finally getting him the results he had been waiting on for decades.
When negotiations began in 2009 between METRO and the Black Heritage Society, as to how they would continue construction while keeping Dr. King’s memorial intact, things eventually hit a major snag in 2012. Duncantell, feeling as if METRO was not willing to properly negotiate, decided to take drastic measures by chaining himself to the "Martin Luther King Tree of Life" and refused to move unless an agreement was finalized between the Black Heritage Society and METRO.
Duncantell said that he was protesting because he did not trust METRO or the City of Houston to do anything they said in a verbal agreement, where they agreed to move the tree a hundred yards or so across the street into McGregor Park and to allow the Black Heritage Society to manage that spot.
"I wanted everything in writing," said Duncantell. "I was prepared and willing to go to jail for that tree, because it meant more than just being a tree in a park. The spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is in that tree."
METRO and the City of Houston eventually provided the Black Heritage Society with the assurances he requested and now, after 33 years of toiling, the project will be unveiled this week.
Duncantell wants people to know that the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Project teaches everyone about Dr. King’s commitment to bring justice to the disenfranchised.
"This project embraces the importance of each person making a positive contribution to the world and the importance of education as a tool enabling each person to make a greater contribution," said Duncantell. "The memorial was designed to develop community programs that highlight the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and serve as a monument that exemplifies freedom, opportunity and justice."
One of the primary goals that Duncantell hopes to see come to pass is making sure the youth in the community know Dr. King beyond being a civil rights leader, but also learn about his accomplishments, trials, and tribulations, all of which have helped shape his legacy.
"We want them to remember Dr. King’s legacy," he said. "We want little children from now to two thousand years from now to look at that monument and the stones that are out there. We have Dr. King’s life chronology planted in stone."
The Black Heritage Society’s "Candlelight Vigil & Memorial Reception" will be held Friday, April 4, 2014 at the CWA Hall 1730 Jefferson, Houston, Texas 77003 6:30p.m. Reception will follow. The Black Heritage Society has held this Candlelight Vigil every year since the creation of the organization, as a way to remember the assassination of Dr. King.
For more information on all events, please call 713.236.1700 or 713.651.9900.
NOTE: Due to an unforeseen and required need to Re-Cast a significant portion of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. statue, the Unveiling Ceremony has been cancelled and will be rescheduled at a later date. Forward Times will keep you informed as soon as that information becomes available.