By Mary MosesJanuary 14, 2011
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Jan. 13, 2011) -- "You're just as good as anybody else. And don't you forget it," Martin Luther King Jr.'s mother told him after his first encounter with racial discrimination as a boy.
That was part of the story relayed by Col. Barrye L. Price, commander of the U.S. Army Cadet Command and a King historian, to Army Soldiers and civilians at the Army's Martin Luther King Jr. birthday celebration at the Pentagon, Jan 12.
King is known for his activist work in the civil rights movement and his famous "I Have a Dream" speech, but Price gave a "behind the scenes" view of King's life.
"King didn't have weapons. He didn't have an army. He didn't have the tools that we associate with the Army, but what he had is a message that appealed to the hearts and minds of people," said Price.
Price shared details of King's life growing up with his family in Atlanta, Ga.
"He grew up in a two-story, 12-room gingerbread house, but he shared the burden of most of the kids in the slums, in that he was a negro," he said.
Price said that the real reason King was selected to be the head of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) wasn't because he was a minister or had a doctorate from Boston University.
"He was selected because no one knew him, and because he basically had the least to lose," Price said.
"He received tremendous criticisms from both would-be supporters and from the apparatus that was against him," Price continued. "And he even thought about quitting a couple of times. What's the message' He was human."
Soon after King agreed to lead the MIA, legislation was passed which ended the desegregation on buses in Montgomery, Price said.
King led non-violent protests and marches for his cause, such as the 1961 Freedom Rides and the Selma March in 1964, Price said.
"These were not segregated protests. King knew that this would soften the hearts of folk," he said.
At the end of his presentation, Price urged his audience to "look beyond the dream."
"Look at the value set of this man, look at the transformation that he was able to lead in our nation. Please remember that one person can make a difference," Price said. "That's how we can best honor him," he added.
Herbert V. Coulton Sr., an Army veteran and civil rights activist, also spoke at the event. He shared his personal experiences working with King during the movement.
"As I walked into Doctor King's office, I was looking for some plush carpets, and some nice furniture. That was not the case. (He was) just a regular fellow," Coulton said, recalling his first meeting with King.
King had only one question for Coulton: "When can you start to work with us'"
Coulton then accepted a position as King's field director for Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee.
He shared a story about a time when King was speaking in Birmingham, Ala., and was attacked by a young white man.
"And the Birmingham Police said, 'Doctor King, don't you worry, we're going to arrest him.' And Dr. King said, 'I have pressed no charges. I hope he would stay. Perhaps he may learn something about nonviolence,'" said Coulton. "That was a real action of nonviolence."
On the day that John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Coulton remembers King saying as he watched the television, "That's the way I'm going to go.'"
"He just knew it, and he felt it. That's the way he was going to go," said Coulton.
King was assassinated five years later on April 4, 1968.
Throughout the King observance, the U.S. Army Soldier's Chorus led the audience in several songs, including the national anthem, 'Precious Lord,' 'Order My Steps,' and the 'Army Song.'
Maj. Gen. Genaro J. Dellarocco, commander of the Army Test and Evaluation Command and host of the celebration, gave the opening remarks to the event, and presented coins to Price and Coulton. He also gave Coulton a bronze Soldier statue for his honorable Army service in the late 1950s.
The Soldier's Chorus received a Certificate of Achievement, and each Chorus member received Dellarocco's coin.
"King made America say 'yes' when it really wanted to say 'no,'" Coulton said during the event's panel discussion. "And I think that so often, we get so politicized that we find ourselves doing what others want us to do rather than doing what we really want to do ourselves.
"And I think that King would still really be disappointed at how we still treat one another," he continued. "That' s so important, but then we go on still doing what people would like us to do."