I Have a Scheme...
It appears there will be two parades this year to commemorate the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., although it's questionable how much of an honor that will be for the slain civil rights leader. Since the first MLK parade was staged downtown in 1978, with King's father in attendance, the annual festivities have been organized by the Black Heritage Society, whose operators include veteran neighborhood activist Ovide Duncantell and former City Council candidate and lobbyist George Dillard. But as this year's MLK Day approaches, Duncantell, Dillard and their associates are fuming over the appropriation -- they contend it's the misappropriation -- of the event by Charles Stamps, an ex-convict who briefly worked for the Heritage Society.
Stamps has nailed down a city permit in his name for the traditional January 15 parade through downtown and has pushed ahead in signing up many of the usual corporate sponsors of the event. He's also advertised that recently named Rice University professor and ex-police chief Lee P. Brown will serve as parade marshal, although The Insider couldn't reach "Back in Town" Brown to verify that claim. Duncantell, naturally, is skeptical. "This guy has no qualms about throwing big names around," he snaps. "That's how he works his game."
Stamps also couldn't be reached for comment, and messages left by The Insider at his Parade Foundation for Martin Luther King Jr. were not returned. Although Stamps has told contributors the parade foundation has federal nonprofit status, Duncantell says that claim, like many others made by Stamps, is untrue.
The hostilities can be traced to early last year, after a core group in the Black Heritage Society, including Stamps, Bruce Jones and Ray Paige, a Democratic Party activist, started the Martin Luther King Jr. Parade Foundation. Jones had produced the parade for the Heritage Society in the past and figured it made more sense to set up a separate foundation to raise money for the event. He incorporated the foundation with the state and secured a city parade permit. Duncantell and Dillard initially opposed the move to create the separate foundation, and discussions ensued between the two factions to figure out how to cooperate in producing a single parade. But in the meantime, Paige says, Stamps moved to get control of the parade foundation by ousting him and Jones.
Stamps went to Austin to the Secretary of State's office and, without authorization from his fellow board members, had himself named to replace Jones as the registered agent for the foundation and proceeded to install replacement board members. According to Paige, Stamps then had the name on the city parade permit changed from Jones' to his own, moved the organization offices and began soliciting funds. (Stamps lists the foundation in the phone directory as the Parade Foundation for Martin Luther King Jr., a slight variation on the name Jones incorporated under, the Martin Luther King Jr. Parade Foundation.) Paige says the maneuver was facilitated when Jones, who himself was on probation for a felony, had his probation revoked for associating with a convicted felon -- namely, Charles Stamps. Jones spent two and a half months in jail. Stamps, meanwhile, was building his own organization of followers and held a fundraising banquet for the parade at the Astrodome Sheraton, which flopped badly, according to Paige. Since then, Stamps has made himself scarce. "Nobody has been able to find him since he moved the offices," says Paige.
After Stamps got control of the parade foundation and permit, Duncantell and Dillard dispatched private investigator Otis Owens to check into Stamps' background. Owens discovered Stamps' criminal record, including a revoked deferred adjudication for theft by check in 1986, for which he was sentenced to the Texas Department of Corrections for four years. Owens' investigation also revealed that Stamps was charged with theft of services in 1988, pleaded no contest and received a six-year prison sentence. "According to a competency evaluation report," wrote Owens, "Stamps stated while he was in custody that he was presently on probation in Fort Bend County for auto theft charges." Court records show Stamps was confined to TDC's Wynne Unit in Huntsville in 1989.
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Stamps' record, however, hasn't kept at least one local agency from associating itself with his parade. The Metropolitan Transit Authority, according to spokeswoman Julie Gilbert, plans to provide a security escort for an expected 70 school buses carrying schoolchildren from Fort Bend County to the downtown Houston parade route. The transit agency will also provide an honor guard, an antique bus (presumably not one with a "Blacks Only" rear seating section) and a parade float for the Stamps-staged procession.
City Attorney Gene Locke admits some concern about the state of the MLK festivities and allegations of fraud raised by the Black Heritage Society, but he says the city cannot cancel the permit it issued to Stamps without violating the ex-con's First Amendment rights. "The only recourse left is to have a court of law make a determination as to who the organization is and who should be the rightful owner of the permit," Locke explains. In other words, the Black Heritage Society would have to take Stamps to court. Paige, however, says that he and Duncantell can't afford to mount a civil case and believe local authorities should be pursuing a criminal investigation of possible fraud in the manipulation of the MLK parade.
According to Duncantell, the Black Heritage Society will conduct its own rolling tribute to MLK on Saturday, January 13, also along the traditional route for downtown parades that starts at Texas and Louisiana streets. Vernon King, a nephew of MLK, is scheduled to be on hand as a representative of the family, Duncantell says. (No members of the King family will appear at Stamps' parade on the official MLK Day two days later, since they always observe the holiday in Atlanta.)
"With [Stamps] holding a parade on Monday," laments Duncantell, "everybody is confused. This could be the linchpin that destroys the Martin Luther King parade in Houston.