The annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. observance on Fort Stewart at Club Stewart’s main ballroom held a room full of military leaders and soldiers who sat together to learn about King’s dream, listen to historically significant music and hear from Armstrong State University Professor Leonard K. McCoy.
Lt. Col. Johnny Evans, the commander of the 3rd Combined Arms Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 1st Armor Brigade Combat Team, introduced King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, which the civil-rights leader gave during the March on Washington.
Grainy footage from that historic day in 1963 was played on a screen, King’s timeless speech moving the audience.
The 3rd Infantry Division Band played “We Shall Overcome,” an anthem and part of the African-American civil rights movement for more than 50 years, according to the narrator, Capt. TaRhonda Blevins.
Gloria Washington then sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a moving piece that was originally a poem by James Weldon Johnson, where “in 1919, the National Association for the Advancement of Color People dubbed it the Negro national anthem,” according to the narrator, “for its power in voice and the pride for liberation and affirmation for African-American people today.”
One line from the song reads, “Facing the rising sun of our new day begun / let us march on till victory is won.”
Maj. Paul Roberts introduced guest speaker McCoy, a native of Brooklyn, New York, who received his undergraduate degree in political science from Central State University in Ohio, according to his biography.
Before the start of the observance, McCoy said King is still important today because, “as you know, that our country today is still polarized. We’re still dealing with the issue of race in this country. And I think it’s important that we’re to move forward as a nation, that we continue Martin Luther King’s dream.”
He added that the theme of his speech was “one of personal responsibility and perseverance and it’s a very daunting task. And it is one that I think that regardless of one’s color, regardless of one’s nationality, that we all are of one race.
“And so it is very important that we all learn to live in this society and in the world and respect each other’s views and respect each other’s values,” he said. “And that we’re able to provide a positive and qualitative place for our loved ones to live.”
To his audience, McCoy touched upon a number of topics facing the African-American community and the nation as a whole, including discussions on race, the U.S. prison population and the segregation on Sunday at churches.
In the beginning, McCoy said he did not come with a prepared speech, but he was there to deliver a message of hope, prosperity and goodwill.
“Martin Luther King attempted to metaphorically give an explication of the social and economic plight that plagued the African-American community,” McCoy said. “It was an appeal by Dr. Martin Luther King to illustrate to the African-American community the need for personal responsibility as well as perseverance. I submit to you today that the very words spoken by Dr. Martin Luther King are still relevant today.”
McCoy said one of the problems in America is that few want to talk about race.
“We want to celebrate, but we don’t want to do the work. We want to go to church, but we don’t want to do the work. We want to have a family, but we don’t want to take care of the family. You know if you don’t address the problem, and we can’t keep pointing at the problem, but we must have a solution,” he said.
“I dreaded coming today to make this presentation because I wanted to speak to the real realities of what’s going on in 2015,” McCoy said. “You see the kind of black-on-black crime, you see that the police officers, while some may say that they’re racist, but they’re dealing with something that is of the unknown. It is very difficult.”
McCoy ended his speech as he began, by reciting the same words that King had quoted in his “Dream” speech from the Declaration of Independence about equality and man’s unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
“I don’t think that Dr. King would be disappointed,” McCoy said before the observance about whether King would be disappointed of what he would see happening today in America. “This is a daunting task. Racism in this country has permeated every aspect in — it has created a cancer that is eating away at the moral fabric of our society. And what we seek to do, it takes time, and we will do our best. We haven’t given up, and we believe that a future is bright.”