By Alexandra SheaJanuary 31, 2020
"Wake up, wake up, wake up. To long have we been asleep," shouted Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion Command Sgt. Maj. Willie Grandison. "You see, the things we thought we had conquered ... they are alive and well and breathing. We must build upon the dikes of courage to hold back the floods of fear. We must be the change to develop a whole new atmosphere."
Grandison's voice carried throughout the NCO Club Jan. 24 during a luncheon to honor the life and works of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The poem, named "Wake up the Dream," was one of several performances provided to the audience that demonstrated unity, equality and love of community.
Several students from C.C. Pinckney Elementary School stood before command teams, parents, Soldiers and civilians of all races, genders and ages as they recited King's 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech.
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal," said one student. Another student took the microphone and continued to carry the message of peace and equality by saying, "In the process of getting our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred."
Attendees rose to their feet and clapped proudly as the students and Grandison completed their performances. As the round of applause wound down, attendees were invited to help themselves to the displays of entrees, side dishes and desserts prepared for the luncheon.
Soon after the guest speaker, Cecil Williams, took the podium. Williams, a local photographer for Jet and Ebony Magazine, shared his experiences of meeting King and documenting the Civil Rights Movement as they unfolded in the Palmetto State.
At just 14-years-old and wielding a Graflex 22 camera, he would witness and document some of the movement's most notable events in the state.
"Often I used to regret not being able to travel around where a lot of other things were happening," Williams said. "I later found out in life that it was a blessing that most of what I needed to cover ... a lot of important things were happening in South Carolina."
One of Williams's first photograph included attorney, and later Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall as he stepped off a bus in Charleston, South Carolina. Marshall arrived to attend the Briggs Case, a lawsuit to desegregate local schools.
"This was my first photograph," Williams said as he showed the Marshall photo. "At 14 years old and having a press card from a national publication, (it's funny) that I had to go and ask my dad to borrow the family car."
Williams explained how he continued to follow the movement that brought him in contact with King and his wife Coretta. He photographed the couple as they led marches and gave speeches throughout the state. Later in life, Williams would compile the thousands of photographs he had taken and compiled them into books.
Williams said that many of the photographs featured in the books document people and events throughout the movement that "probably won't make history books but should."
Williams also spoke of a museum he and his wife have opened, the Cecil Williams Civil Rights Museum. The museum is the first and only museum dedicated to the Civil Rights Movement.
"So much violence is going on in this country and again we should kind of listen to the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, all of us in the community," he said. "Take some of his wisdom that he spoke of and he lived by and use it to guide our everyday lives."
As the speech came to a close, attendees were reminded that the celebration of the life and deeds of King meant the day of celebration was "A day on, not a day off."
"I hope I have inspired you to remember Dr. King's legacy, Williams said. "This was a man, a time and place in history, when brave men and women came together to destroy (not only) Jim Crow and segregated education but also a segregated America."