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Members of Fort Benning and surrounding communities gathered Jan. 15 to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during a commemorative ceremony at Derby Auditorium.
In line with this years theme, Remember! Celebrate! Act! A Day On, Not A Day Off! the audience of Soldiers, Family members, military and civilian leaders and others were encouraged to remember the many sacrifices that King endured for the rights of all Americans.
The event began with the national anthem, performed by Maj. Daniel Landrum of 1st Battalion, 81st Armor Regiment. Landrum also performed Lift Every Voice and Sing, a song he recalled was taught to many public school students during his childhood in Atlanta.
Fifth-graders from Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School presented an upbeat recitation of Kings famous I Have a Dream Speech that received a standing ovation from the audience.
Maj. Gen. H. R. McMaster, commanding general of Fort Benning and the Maneuver Center of Excellence, said the annual event serves as a celebration to Kings service and a call to action to renew commitment to equality in the military.
Our military has been a leader in the long struggle for right for all Americans, but we can never be satisfied with where we are, he said. Its a commitment to ensure equal treatment of all of our Soldiers and civilians regardless of race, color, creed or background.
The guest speaker for event was Lt. Col. Dawson Plummer, commander of the 1st Battalion, 81st Armored Regiment. Plummer is a graduate of Tuskegee University, a historically black college and university in Tuskegee, Ala., where he earned his bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering and a commission into the Army as an Armor officer. Plummer spoke about Kings upbringing, education and the conditions of a separate but equal society that inspired him to become a civil rights leader during the 1960s.
Today we all see the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. become a reality and his work along with the work of thousands of white and black civil rights activists have forever changed the face of this country in a positive manner so that a young graduate of Tuskegee University can be commissioned in the United States Army, 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 see his Family not even have to experience or see the effects of that severe level discrimination that existed before the civil rights laws were passed, he said. I am thankful for the work of Dr. King, I am thankful for Dr. Kings 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.
Each year, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is observed on the third Monday of January in celebration of his birthday. King would have turned 84 Jan. 15.
President Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law in 1983, and it was first observed three years later. At first, some states resisted observing the holiday as such, giving it alternative names or combining it with other holidays. It was officially observed in all 50 states for the first time in 2000.