By Kathy Eastwood, U.S. Military Academy Public AffairsJanuary 30, 2013
WEST POINT, N.Y. (Jan. 31, 2013) -- "...When all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!" -- Martin Luther King Jr.
Community members celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream at the annual MLK luncheon Jan. 23 at the West Point Club. The event included a moving tribute with Class of 2015 Cadets Andrew Nkansah, Nathaniel Green and Jacob Smith reciting parts of King's "I Have a Dream" speech given on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington in the nation's capital on Aug. 28, 1963.
Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Miller, of Keller Army Community Hospital, spoke at the ceremony about his childhood memories of King.
"In 1963, when King did the 'I Have a Dream' (speech), I was three years old sitting in front of the black and white television set in Riverside, Calif., nine of us, with seven kids and my parents," Miller said. "At three years old I didn't understand it."
Only months later, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated and still Miller knew what was happening, but didn't understand it.
"So we fast-forward to the civil rights struggles and we get to 1968, two days after my birthday. I was a man then. I was eight years old," Miller said. "I know a little something. Then it clicked. It clicked for me because for myself, at my age, I could understand discrimination because for me, every man who had tried to fight for equal rights and justice----was killed."
Miller said it seemed no one had carried on what King had started and the civil rights leader's dream appeared to lose significance. Not to him, though.
"I got lost in that dream," he said. "It changed my whole makeup as a black boy growing up because I began seeing discrimination. And it touched me. I went through the school system, got into a few scrapes, and in high school, I was arrested a few times. I become a rebel."
Miller said he attended an integrated school, and after the television series "Roots" was broadcast in 1977, things changed at school.
"That was a long week in school," Miller said. "Our school was integrated. And if you were my friend the last Friday (before "Roots") they didn't talk to you the following Monday. Nobody talked to anybody in school for a week, and come Friday, we had a full-scale riot."
Miller credits his mother with being the rock of the family where hate was never taught. In closing, Miller addressed the cadets in the audience about continuing the vision Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of in his famous speech.
"Cadets, you are the dream for my son and my daughter, who graduates from basic training next week," Miller said. "The dream is not over. Everybody here has the responsibility to carry on that dream."
In 1963, he said, there were eight African-American cadets attending West Point. Today, there are 378.
"That is our future," Miller said. "Do something with it."