A small group of people gathered Jan. 21 at McCoy’s Community Center for the 2021 Fort McCoy Martin Luther King (MLK) Jr. Day Observance on Jan. 21 at McCoy’s Community Center at Fort McCoy, Wis.Clayborn Benson of Milwaukee gave a special presentation as the guest speaker. Benson — a photographer, historian, and military veteran ؙ— served as the guest speaker. Benson worked at WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee for more than 40 years. Benson is also the executive director of the Wisconsin Black Historical Society.The holiday honoring King’s birthday, celebrated the third Monday of January, is a designated national day of service. The recurring theme is “Remember! Celebrate! Act! A day on, not a day off!”The MLK Day of Service is intended to empower individuals, strengthen communities, bridge barriers, create solutions to social problems, and move us closer to King’s vision of a “beloved community,” according to www.nationalservice.gov.“I want to talk about Martin Luther King, and I want to say to you we celebrate this day,” Benson said.Benson highlighted how King’s speeches and words from his lifetime are still celebrated today.“We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal,” Benson said. “We heard those famous words in which Thomas Jefferson gave in the Declaration of Independence. And it is Martin Luther King who recites those words in his speech on the Mall in Washington, D.C., in 1963 talking about how important that each of us are treated equal and about how we should view our ourselves, and how we should treat our fellow friends. His words were so important.”Benson reviewed how African Americans served in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and more and how their contributions were especially significant leading up to what King did. One particular person he mentioned was Union Col. John Jefferson, who fought in the Civil War.John Wayles Jefferson, the oldest child of Eston Hemings and Julia Isaacs Jefferson, was an African American who lived in southern Ohio until the age of 15, when his family moved to Madison, Wis., according to www.monticello.org. Jefferson operated a restaurant and the city’s oldest hotel until the Civil War, when he joined the 8th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment in August 1861. Jefferson joined the regiment as a junior officer and by June 1864 had become a colonel.“He participated in the siege on Vicksburg and was wounded twice,” Benson said. “And he actively recruited people to service in the Army. He was a hero, and his men loved him.”Benson also reviewed how even after the Civil War, despite the Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln and the passing of the 13th and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution, African Americans were still not treated equally. He noted how segregation was made legal in the late 19th century and that it wasn’t until after World War II, when the military started to fully integrate all the services in the late 1940s and early 1950s, that real change began to take place.Benson said that even after military integration of all races, segregation still existed in all facets of life for African Americans. “That’s where Martin Luther King comes in,” he said.Through peaceful protest, speeches, sit-ins, and more, King and his followers slowly helped bring awareness and change, Benson said, highlighting many things King and his followers experienced.Benson also talked about when King came to Wisconsin. King first visited the Milwaukee area in the late 1950s. He spoke about King’s message after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, which ended legal segregation in public schools.“So when King first comes to Milwaukee … his message is, ‘We have come a long way, but we have a long way yet to come,’” Benson said. “But what does that mean? That meant that segregation did still exist. That meant that the racism … did still exist. … These are things we still have to be mindful of even today.”A look at King’s biography on www.brittanica.com might give one of the best reviews on King’s legacy to the United States.“As with the lives of other major historical figures, King’s life has been interpreted in new ways by successive generations of scholars, many of whom have drawn attention to the crucial role of local black leaders in the African American protest movements of the 1950s and ’60s,” the summary states. “His strategy of emphasizing nonviolent protest and interracial cooperation enabled him to fight effectively against the southern system of legalized racial segregation and discrimination.”For his participation, Benson received a plaque of appreciation from the Fort McCoy Garrison presented by Garrison Commander Col. Michael Poss. Soldiers with U.S. Army Garrison Fort McCoy Headquarters and Headquarters Company organized the event.Learn more about Fort McCoy online at https://home.army.mil/mccoy, on Facebook by searching “ftmccoy,” and on Twitter by searching “usagmccoy.” Also try downloading the Digital Garrison app to your smartphone and set "Fort McCoy" or another installation as your preferred base.