By Spc. Jason C. Adolphson (USAG-Yongsan)January 15, 2009
YONGSAN GARRISON, Republic of Korea - The Yongsan community celebrated the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Jan. 7 at the Multipurpose Training Facility. What would have been eight days from King's 80th birthday served as a reminder of America's past and the fortitude that secured its future.
With community participation, 1st Signal Brigade hosted the event. Students from the Seoul American High School Chorus sang the Korean and American National Anthems and 1st Sgt. Willie Grandison, Yongsan Replacement Center, reenacted King writing the "Letter from Birmingham Jail," a manifesto from the civil rights movement. In the skit, Grandison was sitting on a bed in a cell reading King's work aloud, which was originally written on toilette paper.
Sgt. Jesse Thomas, 1st Signal Brigade, delivered excerpts from the "I Have a Dream" speech. "I watched the tape of Dr. King's speech several times before I actually gave it and I just focused on putting the power in the meaning of what he was saying," Thomas said. "The importance is brotherhood -- the importance is treating people like they're human and that's what Dr King's speech was about."
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is on the third Monday of January; however, his actual birthday was Jan 15. The campaign for a federal holiday in King's honor began soon after his assassination. After years of struggle, his wife, Coretta Scott King, chairperson of the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday Commission, presented six million signatures to congress in the 80s; termed by a 2006 article in The Nation as "the largest petition in favor of an issue in U.S. history."
Americans observed the holiday for the first time in 1986, but it was not fully recognized by all 50 states until 2000.
Guest Speaker Lt. Col. Charles Mills, Battle Coordination Detachment, Osan Air Base, said most of the people in the room were not alive in the time frame of wide-spread segregation and lynchings, which were recorded up until 1968, but King provided a "great tone and setting for today."
Mills urged the crowd to follow King's humanitarian example by reaching out to help others, even in times of crisis. "We celebrate a day on, a day off - Not a day off," he said. "I pass to each and every one of you as we live through today - The question of a Good Samaritan."
Some of King's most notable actions as chief spokesman during the nonviolent civil rights movement were the historic Montgomery bus boycott that led to the Supreme Court striking down racial segregation on public transportation a year later; and the March on Washington that drew hundreds of thousands to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where he delivered his address, "I Have a Dream." His determination for freedom led to arrests, his home being bombed, subjection to abuse and death.
"These are things we must remember, otherwise, it's just like we are seeing in Israel and Afghanistan and Iraq - History repeats itself," 1st Signal Brigade Commander Col. Welton Chase Jr. said in closing comments at the celebration.
The event ended with a birthday cake cutting.
Other Martin Luther King Jr. celebrations and events on Yongsan this month are a MLK bowling tournament at Yongsan Lanes noon - 3 p.m. Jan. 17 and a Korea-wide candlelight vigil march at Collier Field House 5 p.m. Jan. 18.