By Crystal Brown, Fort Jackson LeaderJanuary 9, 2009
When Thelma K. Gibson thinks back to Aug. 28, 1963, one thing that stands out is the heat.
A high school student at the time, she recalls being one of the few young people who traveled the almost 500 miles from Columbia to Washington by bus. And she remembers that the thousands gathered that day formed a sort of jovial atmosphere -- "It was almost like a picnic," she recalls -- until "he" began to speak.
"He," of course, refers to famed civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. whose speech that day -- most commonly referred to as the "I Have a Dream" speech -- has become one of his most famous.
"His voice was just so inviting that people started moving," said Gibson, who now serves as assistant principal at C.C. Pinckney Elementary School. "Once he started the speech, people reassembled to hear it."
Forty-six years after that speech, and 41 years after King's death, the message he conveyed that day still resonates, Gibson said.
"Dr. King was an icon for each person lifting his fellow man up," she said. "In order for me to succeed, I must help you to succeed. This country has been built on us helping each other."
Gibson, who became the first black administrator in the Fort Jackson School System nine years ago, is no stranger to fighting for what she believes. Growing up in Columbia, she said she often participated in local demonstrations and marches.
"Columbia, at that time, was a meeting place for persons in civil rights," she said. She remembers diligently marching around the capitol, enduring taunts, and even worse, being spit on.
It is that background that made Gibson a natural choice to speak at Fort Jackson's Martin Luther King Jr. observance this year, said Sgt. 1st Class Chanley Pickard, 193rd Infantry Brigade Equal Opportunity Adviser. The Army's theme this year is "Remember! Celebrate! Act! A day on, not a day off!"
The theme, he said, is a call for Americans to think of the holiday as more than just a day off work.
"Even the day you get off, try to do something positive," he said. "What we're trying to do is celebrate, not a month, but a person. He wasn't just talking about black people, he was talking about all people."
Gibson agrees that recognizing King's works during yearly observances is a way to continue to bring people together. But despite the strides we have made as a country, Gibson cautions against the belief that King's dream has come to fruition.
"There's much work to be done," she said. "Not only did Dr. King believe a person should be judged by their content of character and not the color of their skin, he also believed we were moving toward two societies, the haves and the have-nots. We have to improve on the separation of classes."
She also said that continuing King's legacy is as simple as helping another, no matter how small it may seem.
"It may mean listening to the child next door read. If you're a drill sergeant, it may mean spending a few extra minutes to help that Soldier pass a course.
"No matter whether you're black, white, brown, whatever your nationality, the things that Dr. King espoused should be demonstrated over this whole planet."
The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Luncheon Celebration is scheduled from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., Jan. 15 in the MG Robert B. Solomon Center. Tickets cost $9 and may be purchased through the Equal Opportunity Office, brigade equal opportunity adviser or battalion equal opportunity representative. Tickets will be sold in advance only. For more information, call 751-4117.