Soldiers reflect on significance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Story and photos by Sgt. John Stimac
139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
13th Sustainment Command (expeditionary) Public Affairs

JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq — As Martin Luther King Jr. Day approached, Jan. 18, Soldiers throughout Joint Base Balad, Iraq, reflected on what Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy means to them.

In 1963, King directed a peaceful march on Washington, where he delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech to more than 250,000 people.

"When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day 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," King said.

According to http://nobelprize.org, in the 11 year period between 1957 and 1968, King traveled more than 6 million miles and spoke more than 2,500 times, promoting peaceful protest to injustice in the United States.

At 35, he was the youngest man to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, after which he announced he would donate the prize money to the furtherance of the civil rights movement, according to the site.

Pfc. Bruce E. Cornish, unit supply specialist with the 13th Sustainment Command (expeditionary), and a Louisville, Ky., native, said King had a vision of blacks joining hands with other races and, for the most part, that is happening.

"It may not be like that for all of America but, for some, we are all getting along the way he would have wanted us to," said Cornish.

Cornish said King's speeches touched most Americans and his words maintain their power today.

"We have a black president," said Cornish. "That means, for the most part, every race voted for President Obama."

Lt. Col. Dan Kozlowski, brigade judge advocate for Task Force 38 and an Indianapolis, native, said MLK Day has meaning for him because he was alive prior to the civil rights act of 1964 and can remember 1968, not vividly, but he remembers how he felt.

Kozlowski, who has taught race relations at Oakland City University, in Oakland City, Ind., since 1996, said he speaks in terms of history. He said he looks at race relations in 10 to 15-year increments, starting around 1967.

"I remember when Richard Hatcher became the first black man elected mayor in Gary, Ind., in 1967 and, 40 years later, we elected a black man as president," said Kozlowski. "I don't think that significance can be lost."

Kozlowski said there have been significant moments in history, starting with the Civil Rights Act, the Justice Thomas hearings, the O.J. Simpson trials and now, with Obama serving as president.

"As you look back, it seems we may have taken two steps forward and one step back," said Kozlowski. "Overall, it seems that progress is being made."

He said race relations have improved, allowing more people to be judged by their character than the color of their skin.

"We can pat ourselves on the back for society that we have come a long way," said Kozlowski.