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Rumsfeld Likens King to Freedom Fighters in Terror War

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 22, 2004 – The nation has made important strides forward in achieving the color-blind society Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told the Pentagon breakfast audience today.

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Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld tells the audience at DoD's 19th annual Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast Jan. 22 that the nation has made important strides in achieving the completely color-blind society King envisioned. Seated in the foreground is sixth-grader Kendell Cunningham, 12, of Washington's John Tyler Elementary School, winner of DoD's King essay-writing contest. Next to him is U.S. Senate Chaplain Barry Black, a retired Navy rear admiral and former chief of Navy chaplains. Photo by Rudi Williams

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The defense secretary called the breakfast audience "freedom fighters," because, he said, "you believe as he (King) did, in the dream of freedom. In your own way, you're engaged in the great battle to protect and respect freedom."

Rumsfeld said that in Afghanistan, young women, by virtue of their sex, were denied the right to study, practice medicine, or to appear on the street, except in certain dress. "They're now attending school and pursuing careers as equals," he noted.

Turning to Iraq, Rumsfeld said the Kurds and Shia, many of whom were oppressed because of their religion and ethnicity, now have an opportunity to participate fully in the life and government of their country.

Calling King a courageous leader, Rumsfeld said "he was also a freedom fighter. Not just a fighter for freedom, in the sense that he battled evil and segregation and discrimination, but a champion who challenged every American to live up to the promise of freedom. He believed in the promise of America."

Rumsfeld quoted King as saying, "We refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity. So we've come to cash this check. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy."

"It was. And, to an extent, he did by setting in motion the forces of freedom," the secretary said.

Rumsfeld said he was an economist during the 1960s, and King used to come to the capital and bring a number of civil rights leaders he was working with. He said many people think civil rights legislation happened during President John F. Kennedy's administration.

"But it actually started during the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower in 1958, and was mostly passed during the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson," said Rumsfeld, who served in Congress from 1962 to 1969. "It took a lot of effort by a lot of people. And there were a group of us young congressmen involved."

Rumsfeld also gave a special welcome and expressed thanks to Kendall Cunningham and other King essay contest finalists from Washington's John Tyler Elementary School. Cunningham, a 12-year-old sixth-grader, read his award-winning essay during the breakfast observance of King's birthday.

Each year, DoD sponsors an essay contest for the students at John Tyler, its adopted school. The essays are written on the national theme for the King observance, according to Raymond F. DuBois, DoD's director of administration and management, and director of DoD's Washington Headquarters Services. This year's theme was unchanged from last year's: "Remember! Celebrate! Act! A Day On, Not a Day Off!"

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Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld

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