JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas –
The 232nd Medical Battalion sponsored an observance ceremony to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the Blesse Auditorium at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston Jan. 19, 2023.
Maj. Gen. Michael Talley, U.S. Army Medical Center of Excellence commanding general, hosted the event. MEDCoE hosts a variety of monthly observances throughout the year to highlight cultural diversity and awareness.
“I appreciate everyone coming out to celebrate an icon, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” Talley said during his opening remarks. “It’s important that we, as military members and civilians that are serving in a military organization, set a shining example for the rest of the country. Our common bond is our values, and Dr. King exemplified those values.”
A highlight of this year’s event, a dramatic reenactment of a civil-rights era peaceful demonstration, silenced the audience of nearly 200 in-person attendees. After a brief narration, the auditorium lights dimmed on a 50-foot projection screen.
On it, a photo of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool appeared as members of the 232nd Medical Battalion, serving as stage actors dressed in early 1960s clothing while holding protest signs, walked to the center stage.
Reminiscent of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, as the actors stood on stage motionless, as if suspended in time, Sgt. 1st Class James Ransfer read the entirety of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in a moving tribute to an iconic and pivotal moment in United States history.
Lewis Barger, MEDCoE historian and guest speaker for the event, then took the stage.
“We just heard a truly stirring rendition of Martin Luther King’s speech, and I think that does better than anything else to give us a sense of the man and what he was fighting for,” Barger said.
Barger told the audience three stories to illustrate what King was fighting against at the time of the speech.
He told of the Houston riot of 1917, during which 13 African American Soldiers were hanged and buried in unmarked graves at Fort Sam Houston. He then spoke of President Harry Truman’s executive order in 1948 desegregating the military, but how the then Secretary of the Army dragged his feet in following Truman’s order.
Barger’s final story described King’s participation in trying to desegregate Albany, Georgia, and the time it took to overcome racism and segregation.
“These are not happy stories,” Barger said. “But history is the study of what happened, not just what makes us feel good.”
Each of the stories, Barger relayed, showed how perseverance against injustice before, during, and after what is commonly known as the civil rights movement of the 1960s, contributed to progress toward the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Barger ended his remarks by saying, “You as Soldiers are representatives of society. You are called upon to be the best of society. And as such it’s more important than anybody to treat each other with dignity, with respect, with justice.”
The Congressional act making Martin Luther King Jr. Day a national holiday was passed in 1983, designating the third Monday in January as a federal holiday in observance of the civil rights leader.
The legislation to recognize King was first introduced in Congress just four days after his assassination on April 4, 1968. It took 15 years of persistence by civil rights activists for the bill to be made into federal law, and another 17 years for the act to be recognized by all 50 states.
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