Houston Black History: Ovide Duncantell

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For more than the last four decades, Houstonians proudly line the streets for the annual Black Heritage Society’s MLK Parade, but do you know who is responsible for its creation? Civil Rights ‘warrior’ Ovide Duncantell.

As noted on the Black Heritage Society’s website, Duncantell was born in Natchitoches, Louisiana, on August 7, 1936. After graduating from school in 1955, he entered the United States Air Force and was honorably discharged in 1959. After returning home, he got married and set out for Los Angeles, California. But after making a stop in Houston to visit with his new wife’s brothers, his plans changed, and he remained in Houston until his death.

In 1969, Duncantell began working for the Anti-Poverty Program-Houston Community Action Association. There, he organized youth adults and senior citizens to ban together and improve their communities from 1970-1973. He later created his own organization entitled “The Central Committee for the Protection of Poor People.” The organization’s mission and goals were to assist the community in obtaining much needed social services.

Duncantell eventually went to work for then newly-elected Commissioner, Tom Bass, from 1973-1977, where he assisted in the appointment of several new key county office positions, including placement of the first black Harris County Constable, A. B. Chambers, along with several Justices of the Peace.

He also earned his Bachelor and Masters degrees from Texas Southern University.

In 1974, Duncantell became Founder and Executive Director of the Black Heritage Society Inc., emerging as one of the driving forces behind the renaming of South Park Boulevard becoming Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard.

The Reverend Martin Luther (“Daddy ”) King, Sr., was so impressed by the gesture of respect, he made a personal appearance at the street’s name change ceremony, and served as the BHS first MLK Parade “Grand Marshal,” on January 21, 1978. Making a pact and promise to Dr. King’s father, the BHS has since conducted the annual MLK Parade in Houston ever since.

The civil rights leader was 75 years old when he chained himself the “MLK Tree of Life,” which the BHS planted in 1983, to stand in the way of the construction of Metro’s new Southeast light rail line.

“I’m 75 years old but I’m still a warrior,” he told one reporter.

Indeed he was. He died in October 2018 at the age of 82.