To help commemorate the 2017 Martin Luther King Jr. observance, Fort Bragg brought in a guest speaker who, during King’s March on Washington in 1963, served as a marshal for the Congress of Racial Equality, an equal rights organization. The work of Dr. King needs to be examined, said Dr. Stanley Johnson, now associate professor of history, Fayetteville State University.
In Wednesday’s ceremony at the Iron Mike Conference Center, Johnson titled his remarks, “Martin Luther King: Lifting the Burden for us All.” Johnson said that King attracted a cadre of supporters and used tools such as the bus boycott and voter registration to emerge as a civil rights leader and to achieve success. But, King also faced opposition.
“Attitude and history were against him,” said Johnson. King was opposed by the NAACP, who promoted litigation over King’s tactic of mass action and by segregationists who did not want integration.
But, segregationists did not have a spokesperson comparable to King.
With the 1960s sit-ins, freedom rides and formation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, formed to fight segregation (King was SCLC’s first president), King began to make inroads in the civil rights movement.
Some of his legacy, Johnson said, has been the advent of full citizenship for all, Constitutional rights in practice, and the decline of racial stereotypes, as well as the election of black men and women into politics.
Mary Ransaw, now 78, said she marched with King as a student at Morris Brown College, in Atlanta, in the 1950s. Ransaw attended the observance to remember King and to “tell the bloodshed that happened” to make America better.
“I have just never lost the desire for the young to understand and know what he had done,” said Ransaw, the widow of an Army veteran and a community activist. “He instilled a desire for me to continue to work with young folks.”
Fort Bragg’s observance increases awareness for and honors King as a man and as a leader, said Sgt. Tiffany A. Evans, 16th Military Police Brigade, which facilitated the observance with Team Bragg Equal Opportunity.
Featured performances included call-back singing (audience repeats lyrics) and a rendition of “Down by the Riverside” by the Albritton Middle School Chorus and singing of “Stand By Me” and “Amazing Grace” by the 82nd Airborne Division Chorus, as well as remarks by Col. Eugenia K. Guilmartin, commander, 16th MP Bde.
Think of King as a combat leader, said Guilmartin. “He was fighting an insurgency against injustice.”
Her message mirrors that of Maj. Gen. Malcolm B. Frost, the Army Chief of Public Affairs.
“The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King lived an uncommon life of courage and conviction. A life devoted to selfless service, relentlessly pursuing dreams of a better tomorrow for all Americans.
“And in those ways, he reminds me of all of you! America’s Soldiers — serving in virtually every clime and place around the world — selflessly serving something bigger than yourselves. Hard at work in passionate pursuit of a better world for us all.”
King’s commitment seems valued by today’s Soldiers.
“He showed respect and never looked down upon anyone no matter what aspects of life they were from,” said Spc. Ethan Flowers, 21st Military Company (Airborne).
It is out of respect that Spc. Kadarrius Reynolds, a fellow 21st Military Co. (Abn.) Soldier, said he attended the observance.
“(Respect) for what he stood for. We owe him that much.”
Each and every Soldier should understand what King stood for, said Sgt. 1st Class Shanikqua Nappier, 16th MP Bde. “(Soldiers should) take his values, his beliefs and put it into play in our everyday military lives,” she said.