WASHINGTON (AFNS) — Defense Department members gathered Jan. 15 at the Pentagon’s annual observance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, ahead of the federal holiday.
Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work called King a “true, remarkable American patriot and hero” and said he was honored to help pay tribute to the late civil rights leader.
“The most fitting way to honor Dr. King’s legacy is not just to celebrate this holiday or to celebrate his achievements, but to act on his word in what we do every day in the service of our nation,” Work said.
King, who would have been 86 today, was assassinated in 1968, less than four years after winning the Nobel Peace Prize for his leadership of nonviolent civil disobedience in the advancement of civil rights.
A Proponent of Peace
Joining the deputy secretary to give the event’s keynote speech was Navy Adm. Michelle Howard, vice chief of naval operations. In 1999, Howard became the first African-American woman to command a combatant ship in the U.S. Navy, and in 2014, she became the first woman to rise to the rank of four-star admiral.
“Not only did (King) peacefully bring society through some of the most complicated and charged social upheavals of American history, but he also fostered change in the very hearts and minds of the American people,” Howard said.
Howard called King one of the greatest leaders the country has ever seen and recounted several of his most memorable words. Quoting King, she said “if a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live” and “a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus, but a motor of consensus.”
The admiral praised King for convincing so many that people work better together and for “overwhelming the status quo” with consistent, concentrated and insistently righteous perseverance.
Inclusiveness and Restraint
“He pushed both black and white citizens to look beyond themselves, beyond their comfort zones, habits or beliefs, to something bigger and better for all of us,” Howard said. “He rose above the pain and he taught his followers to demand the moral high ground … these lessons of inclusiveness and restraint are some of the hardest concepts throughout human history.”
For that reason, the admiral explained, it is even more important for Americans to continue to observe and remember Dr. King for the things he did and the principles he stood for.
“Today, as we honor this great American,” Work said, “let us also reflect on what we can do, each and every one of us in this room, throughout the Pentagon, throughout the armed services of our great nation, to further the struggle for human freedom and dignity that Dr. King helped to lead and for which he ultimately gave his life.”
King was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established as a U.S. federal holiday in 1986.