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Martin Luther King Jr. Honored at Pentagon Breakfast

By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 12, 2006 – Defense Department leaders and many guests gathered here today to honor a champion of civil rights at the Pentagon's 21st Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast.

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Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld speaks to the audience at the Pentagon's 21st Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast, Jan. 12. Photo by Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
  

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"Dr. King helped America come to terms with the shame of its past, to find a way to move beyond it," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said at the breakfast. "He understood that our nation could never be a moral force in the world as long as it denied the promise of its founding to its own people."

Rumsfeld, who met King in the 1960s while working on civil rights legislation in Congress, said that this Martin Luther King Jr. Day is significant because it is the first since Rosa Parks, another historical civil rights figure, died. Parks died in October and thousands of admirers filed by her casket in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, in a scene that Rumsfeld said would have made King proud.

"That scene offered all who saw it, in person or on television, a glimpse of the dream that Martin Luther King Jr. suffered and died for, and the dream we are still struggling to make a reality for every American," he said.

The United States is a better and stronger country because of King's work, and he will always be remembered for his role in history, Rumsfeld said.

"Every decisive chapter in the history of freedom has within it an epic figure, whose righteousness and power transcend time and place to become a symbol of humanity's struggle against the sin of subjugation," he said.

King should not only be a symbol of freedom to be remembered, but a source of inspiration for continued change in society, said Tina Ballard, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for policy and procurement. If King were alive today, he would be pleased with the progress that has been made toward his dream of an equal society, but he would constantly be asking what more could be done, she said.

"As the keepers of the dream, we have to go on with urgency; we have to go on until the jangling discord and devastation of racism, sexism and terrorism is silenced," she said.

The nation has come a long way in the 40 years since King fought for equal rights for all races, Ballard said, but Americans still have an obligation to keep pursuing that dream and spreading hope in this country and around the world.

"We have to go on until the world understands that America is great not because we are a people born to a common land, but because we are a people committed to a common cause, and that cause is freedom," she said. "We must go on until we make real the promises of democracy."

Also at the breakfast were students from John Tyler Elementary School, the school adopted by the office of the secretary of defense. DoD sponsored an essay contest for the school, and the finalists came to the breakfast. Kylend Adams, a fifth grader who won the contest, read a portion of his essay for the audience.

"I think it's amazing that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. sacrificed his life for us," Adams read from his essay. "He makes me want to be a better person."

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Biographies:
Donald H. Rumsfeld
Tina Ballard

Click photo for screen-resolution imageDefense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld speaks to the audience at the Pentagon's 21st Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast, Jan. 12. Photo by Sgt. Sara Wood, USA  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageSounds of New Birth, a gospel vocal ensemble, performs at the Pentagon's 21st Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast, Jan. 12. Photo by Sgt. Sara Wood, USA  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageKylend Adams, a fifth grader from John Tyler Elementary School, reads his contest-winning essay about the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Pentagon's 21st Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast, Jan. 12. Photo by Sgt. Sara Wood, USA  
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