FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- The stained glass windows of the All American Chapel are decorated with the often violent history of the 82nd Airborne Division. But on this day, Paratroopers gathered inside the chapel to celebrate a man who devoted his life to non-violence.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is revered as one of the most important figures in the American civil rights movement.
"Dr. King has showed me with his non-violence movement that you can get further by not taking the anger-road," said Sgt. 1st Class Richard Stewart, a Paratrooper who recited from Dr. King's sermon "I've Been to the Mountaintop" during the ceremony.
"I try to take that into context when I'm dealing with people on a daily basis," he said.
Non-violence was just one of the many messages Paratroopers and community members heard at Fort Bragg's Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration at the 82nd Airborne Division's All American Chapel on Jan. 22. The celebration, hosted by the division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team included a performance by Albritton Middle School's seventh and eighth-grade chorus and featured keynote speaker, Mrs. Ammie McRae Jenkins from Spring Lake, N.C.
"I learned so much from (Dr. King)," Jenkins said. "I think that the non-violent protests brought about a lot of the benefits we enjoy today."
"As a witness during the time of segregation, I'm very pleased that the 82nd Airborne Division asked me to come out."
Jenkins said she felt comfortable speaking to the mostly military audience.
"I've been around the military almost all my life," she said. "I remember as a child working in the fields and looking up and seeing the Paratroopers jump out at Sicily and Normandy drop zones."
As a young adult in the 1950's, Jenkins remembers the segregation well.
"We lived in a black and white world," she said. "And then, Dr. King came along and started organizing people."
No matter how bad the racial injustices got, Jenkins insists that Dr. King's non-violence response was always the answer.
"I did go to one of the strategy meetings," she said. "And I found out if you could not protest and be non-violent, they did not want you to take part."
The desegregation of schools in North Carolina had a profound impact on Jenkins's life. In 1962, she was admitted as the first African-American student at High Point College.
"It was not easy," she said. "I was the target of a lot of spit balls."
Equality came with great cost.
"The things we have today were really fought hard for," she said. "People died fighting for these rights."
Continuing the legacy of Dr. King is where Jenkins focuses her attention these days. Jenkins is the author of two books and the founder of the Sandhills Family Heritage Association. Her nonprofit organization provides programs and services that strengthen family, economic, and cultural bonds for African Americans in the Sandhills community.
"This is the way we honor Dr. King," she said. "Through providing service in the community."
Col. Patrick Hynes, commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, echoed the importance of remembrance.
"With celebrations like this, we ensure that Dr. King's legacy and message of equality continues for both this and future generations," he said. "This day stands as a monument to the accomplishments of Dr. King and all who dedicated their lives to achieving the idea that all men are created equal."
Looking back at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s life, many feel it is important to remember the struggles, celebrate the victories, and act by honoring those who fought for equality. In Dr. King's sermon, recited at the beginning of the celebration by Stewart, Dr. King foreshadowed a time when legal racial segregation would be no more.
"I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I'm happy tonight."