The Bayonet

Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014

‘Remembering the Dream’

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The following is the full text of Lt. Col. Dawson Plummer’s speech from Fort Benning’s observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Maj. Gen. McMaster, CSM Carabello, distinguished guests ladies and gentlemen — thank you all for coming to celebrate the birthday and memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I know that some of you may be wondering why we are celebrating a man and his dream, and what was it that Dr. King did that was so important for the entire country to recognize him during the month of his birthday?

Well, let’s start with eight things we know or do not know about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

He was born on January 15, 1929, to Martin Luther King Sr. and Mrs. Alberta Williams King in Atlanta Georgia. Martin Luther King Sr. was also a pastor, which helped pave the way for his son to follow in his foot steps. Another interesting fact about Dr. King Jr.’s parents was that they also fought against racial prejudice, and his father considered racism and segregation to be contrary to God’s will. Dr. King Jr.’s father strongly discouraged any sense of class superiority in his children as well.

Dr. King started pre-school at the age of 5, skipped the 9th and 11th grades and entered Morehouse College in Atlanta at age 15 in 1944.

After graduating with a degree in sociology, he attended Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania.

Dr. King Jr. enrolled and completed his graduate studies at Boston University. By 1955, Dr. King Jr. completed his Ph D. and was only 25 years old. Dr. King met his wife Coretta Scott in Boston and they were married in 1953.

When he became active in the the civil rights movement his home was fire bombed and he was arrested 20 times.

So, what else inspired him to take up the cause of civil rights? Well, I think we first need to see what the United States looked like during this time. Before civil rights, America was living under the “separate but equal” law established by the 1896 Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson.

Public transportation had separate waiting areas, movie theaters were either all black or all white and there were separate public water fountains and bathrooms.

Although most restaurants only served a particular race, there were some that had separate entrances for those that did not want to lose business and catered to different races and sectioned off areas so that they would not mix.

Take a look at some of these other pictures. When you say help wanted I guess you had to be a little more specific as to what kind of help you were looking for.

Schools and universities were segregated and for this particular university that accepted a black man who paid his tuition, they eventually gave him a seat out in the corridor instead of the main classroom.

Most of the time there were either white schools or black schools until the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in 1954 “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal,” and therefore racial segregation of public schools violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment (This was the famous Brown vs the board of education argued by Thurgood Marshall).

If you were traveling across the country and were looking for a hotel, apartment or someplace to rent, you had to make sure you were aware of the type of community and the posted signs.

On a different note, one thing that the military and eventually our government could agree on were that bullets and bombs, when fired by America’s enemies, did not discriminate.

President Harry Truman knew this as well as many of our military leaders. Progressing from all black units to integrated units seen in the Korean War, the military started to recognize the importance of working together regardless of race, and coupled with the work of civil rights activists, Dr. King Jr. included, our military is still today one of the best equal opportunity employers in the United States.

So why was this working together concept not acceptable when minority Soldiers came back from war and were treated like second class citizens?

Well, believe it or not, the thing we tend to brag about is the main reason why — the less than 1 percent of the U.S. population serving in the military, thus the military’s view was not the majority in the U.S.

I know that most of us in this room were either very young or not alive when Dr. King Jr. was shot by a sniper’s bullet at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., on April 4, 1968, or when the civil rights marches from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., happened in March 1964, or when King became the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10 that same year at the age of 35, or when Time Magazine listed him as the Man of the year for 1963, or when he gave his famous speech in Washington D.C., on August 28, 1963.

Let’s pause for a moment and take a look at this picture — not only are black minorities here but white people as well as numerous other races.

Remember civil rights was not won by only one race but white and black working together, along with other minority races to achieve the endstate we see today.

How many of us were alive when Dr. King orchestrated the Montgomery City bus boycott (sparked by a then-42-year old Mrs. Rosa Parks on December 1, 1955) that lasted 381 days all because Ms. Parks refused to give up her seat (as required by law for all black people) so that a white man paying the same bus fare could take it from her?

Now, let me pause a moment for historical clarification — Ms. Rosa Parks was actually sitting where she was supposed to on the bus, just behind the 10th row for seating which was the designated area for all minorities riding the bus. The issue surfaced when the bus began to fill up with white majority passengers so the common practice was after the 10th row was filled then the minorities were supposed to give up their allocation of seats and either move further back or even stand to accommodate them.

Dr. King Jr. used the ideas of civil disobedience and peaceful protests based on the writings of Henry David Thoreau and the actions of Mohandas Gandhi to lead the fight against segregation and discrimination. The demonstrations and activism significantly assisted the US Government to eventually pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

All this work Dr. King and other civil rights activists did was done so that years later a young graduate of Tuskegee University can be commissioned in the United States Army by his parents, be promoted to captain by his loving wife, promoted to major and subsequently achieve the rank of lieutenant colonel and command a battalion.

While at the same time, he does not have to see his family experience or see the effects of that severe level of discrimination that existed before the civil rights laws were passed.

I am thankful for the work of Dr. King, I am thankful for Dr. King’s dream, and I am thankful for those leaders in our country who continue to support that dream so we can indeed live equally in the greatest country in the world. May God bless our Army and may God bless America, the land I truly love. Thank you all for coming.

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