Fort Irwin/NTC honor Dr. Martin Luther King's legacy
January 12, 2010
FORT IRWIN, Calif. - Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Rochelle, former Army deputy chief of staff, G-1, caught an early morning flight Tuesday with an important message about the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which he presented to the Fort Irwin/National Training Center community.
"I asked myself, 'How can I bring something new and fresh, informative, entertaining to a topic that has been written on and a life that has been reported on and chronicled perhaps as much as any 20th century human being that we can think of''," Rochelle said as he related how his daughters have given him numerous books about and works of Dr. King over the past few years.
In that collection, the general found the book, "Parting the Waters: America in the King Years," by Taylor Branch.
"'Parting the Waters: America in the King Years," he repeated. "It didn't say, 'Parting the Waters: the King Years in America.' It said, "Parting the Waters: America in the King Years."
That subtle shift notes that the book is not a biography of Dr. King, which makes it very unique, he said.
"It's biography or a chronicle of America and how Dr. King may have influenced that and have been influenced by it," Rochelle said, as he noted how the first chapter of the book, "Forerunners," gave him the inspiration for how to tailor a talk for leaders at Fort Irwin about this great leader.
"It excited me because in the Army we are all about mentors. We are all about mentoring," he said. "When I saw the topic, forerunners, I didn't think about it in terms of those who came before Dr. King, but I thought more frankly about who were his mentors and what influence might those mentors have had on him, his philosophy, his methodology and his life."
Of those, the general said he found four he decided to share: Martin Luther King, Sr., Vernon Napoleon Johns, the first African-American admitted to Oberlin College and pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., which was Dr. King, Jr.'s first church; Reinhold Newberg and Mohandas Ghandi.
Dr. King's father taught the Social Christian doctrine, which held that human beings could work themselves to the point where in society was so all-encompassing it could change individuals hearts and make everyone love one another, Rochelle said.
"It was also believed that social doctrine and social philosophy could change nations and it could change countries as well and politics and government," he said. "Early on that philosophy was shared by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr."
While at college Dr. King, Jr. met one of his key mentors, Vernon Napoleon Johns, who after leaving Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., went on to be the director of the Maryland Baptist Center.
Johns' "Transfiguration Moment " sermon was the basis for Dr. King, Jr.'s "Mountain Top" speech, he said.
"Vernon Johns proved to be quite the activist and a practitioner of the social gospel and in 1934 preached sermons on subjects like 'It's OK to Kill Blacks in Montgomery, Alabama,'" Rochelle said. "Another sermon following the rape of three young black girls in Montgomery, Alabama was 'It's OK When the Rapist is White. He realized he was not only whipping up his congregation, but he calling attention to himself and his social gospel."
A third mentor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s was Reinhold Newberg, a scholar and dean at Yale Seminary, who was the author of a work, which had a profound influence on Dr. King, Jr. to the point that they rocked his beliefs, said.
Newberg's stance on the rights of individuals, which became known as Christian realism, particularly in Detroit, Mich. during the Great Depression, which ran contrary to the social gospel, because Newberg believed individuals could change, but when individuals are in groups, the group dynamic takes over.
"Before King ascended to the pulpit of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church there was this tension going on in his mind about what his true beliefs, about religion, how society and the interactions of individuals, both as individuals and as groups, could bring about change."
In the midst of the dynamic tension, the actions of Mohandis Ghandi in India to bring about tremendous social change through non-violent means against seemingly insurmountable odds served as a bridge for Dr. King's conflict between social gospel and Christian realism.
Everyone at Fort Irwin is a mentor and a drum major, the general noted .
"The question for us today is as you look at the life and you look at the influencers of Dr. Martin Luther King and you reflect on the kind of drum major he was, can one not be just a little bit humbled how an individual in 39 short years could have such an influence on our American society'" Rochelle said. "I leave you with one question, 'Who are your mentors' Who are your drum majors and for whom are you the drum major'"