By Brandon BieltzJanuary 19, 2012
FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. -- Radio talk-show host Joe Madison posed a provocative question to the large crowd attending the installation's Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day community observance:
"What Martin Luther King do you want to honor?"
As he listed King's numerous struggles and accomplishments, Madison repeated the question again and again.
"I come here not just to give a run-of-the-mill address," he said. "I hope by the time I finish, you will have looked at Dr. King from a different perspective."
Madison, an award-winning talk-show host known as the "Black Eagle" on Radio-One WOL-AM in Washington, D.C., and on XM Satellite Radio Channel 169, was the guest speaker at the annual event on Jan. 12 at McGill Training Center.
Several hundred people attended the observance, which was themed "A Day On, Not A Day Off" and hosted by the 902nd Military Intelligence Group.
"I am pleased to welcome all of who join us today to celebrate the very special contribution of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was a heroic figure in the civil rights movement and inspired ordinary people -- young and old -- to take a stand and get involved in the fight against the injustice of discrimination and racism of all people," said Lt. Col. Robin Ferguson of the 310th MI Battalion, which is part of the 902nd MI Group.
In his welcome, Garrison Commander Col. Edward C. Rothstein presented representatives of Maryland's congressional delegation who delivered remarks from Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski and Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin.
By the time Madison took his place at the podium, only standing room remained as service members and civilians continued to file in for the 90-minute event.
A civil rights activist, Madison was named executive director of the 10,000-member Detroit NAACP in 1974 when he was just 24. In recent years, he led demonstrations in front of the Sudanese Embassy for 90 consecutive days to end the genocide in Darfur. Madison then led a campaign to divest $93 billion in Sudan. He also traveled three times to the war zones in Southern Sudan, where he participated in the freeing of more than 7,000 slaves and delivery of survival kits to refugees.
During his powerful speech that combined passion with humor, Madison said he hoped to present a different perspective on King's life and work by "taking King off of the [National] Mall."
Madison recounted the struggles King faced as a civil rights leader and for his opposition to the Vietnam War, including his alma mater seeking to revoke his college degree and being denounced by other civil rights leaders for his unpopular position on the war.
King's challenges began early. At that time, a typical middle-class Baptist preacher with a doctorate didn't even think about demonstrating or going to jail, Madison said. When King took over in 1956 at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., he was replacing a minister who was dismissed for being too much of an activist.
"Here was a man who had to convince black people before he convinced white people that a transformation of their society was possible," Madison said. "He had to convince African Americans first because they were the ones who were asking, 'Why are you getting into all this mess?' "
Madison also discussed the role of the military, which desegregated in 1948 -- well before private industry.
"There would not be a civil rights movement if it wasn't for the integration of the United States military. That's a fact," he said. "Most of the men who fought in World War II came out of that war, came back to Mississippi, came back to Georgia, came back to Alabama and said, 'If we can fight for democracy against Hitler and against Mussolini, we can go against the Klan and Dixiecrats in the South.'
"If anybody would be appreciative of Doctor King and civil rights movements, it's you men and women in uniform because you integrated."
Madison noted that several prominent civil rights activists, including Medgar Evers and Hosea Williams, served during World War II.
"Most of the men who were involved in the civil rights movement came out of the military with the discipline -- but more important of all, with the commitment and spirit that was instilled in them to go and transform this country," Madison said.
If King were alive today, Madison said, he would be fighting for better loans and health benefits for service members.
Scanning the ballroom filled with service members, Madison said he saw positive examples for the rest of society.
"I see young people who are disciplined, I see young people who are learning and I see young people who are role models," he said.
Madison ended his speech by discussing the initial purpose of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The federal observance that took 15 years to enact, he said, was meant to be more than just another holiday with sales and a day off. It should be a time when people go out and try to promote change, urged Madison.
"Everybody, whoever you are, can do something," he said. "Remember Rosa Parks was not the mother of the civil rights movement when she sat down on that bus -- she was a seamstress."
After the standing ovation, as audience members lined up to meet Madison or mingled over a lunch of Southern fare, several people said they gained a new perspective of King.
"It was one of the best [presentations] I have seen in my military career," said Chaplain (Maj) Dean Darroux, resource manager and director of pastoral care. "The speech was awesome. The different perspective that he gave made it more meaningful. ... Everybody normally comes and gives you a history of Martin Luther King. They don't help us think outside the box."
Pvt. Anthony Lawson of the 741st MI said he found it interesting to hear not only about King's successes but his struggles.
"It's good to look at Martin Luther King come from his strife and not just hearing about all the good," Lawson said. "It's good to focus on the adversity that he did have to go through to get to the level he was [at] and making the change that he did."