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Keynote Speaker Remembers King's 'Incredible Impression'

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 22, 2004 – "I remember Martin. I remember sitting in the audience and listening to the power of his rhetoric," said U.S. Senate Chaplain Barry C. Black as he stepped to the podium.

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"I remember Martin. I remember sitting in the audience and listening to the power of his rhetoric," U.S. Senate Chaplain Barry Black told the audience at DoD's 19th annual Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast. Black is a retired Navy rear admiral who was chief of Navy chaplains. Photo by Rudi Williams

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Noting that he was a student in Alabama during the civil rights movement, Black said, "I remember the sit-ins, the water fountains with the signs 'colored' and 'white.' I remember the Alabama jail cells. I remember being turned away from houses of worship because of the color of my skin. And I remember that apostle of nonviolence, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr."

The chaplain told the audience that King made an "incredible impression" upon him. "I would not have accomplished nearly what God blessed me to do, without his inspiration," he said. "So when we say, 'Remember, celebrate and act,' that is what I did in response to (King), 'the drum major.' Martin left indelible footprints on the sands of time. He taught me to make a commitment to nonviolent direct action."

But he said King believed that sometimes, "we must use violence to oppose the greater violence of totalitarian forces that would engulf us. He believed that someone must stop a Hitler or a Saddam Hussein. But, he believed that violence should be the last option. He said we must learn to live together as brothers and sisters, or we will die together like fools."

Black said those words resonated in his mind. "That made an impact on my life, and affected the way I interacted with people," said Black, the first African- American Senate chaplain. "Martin also encouraged me by his life and his speeches to strive for excellence. He said whatever job you do, do it so well that the living, the dead or the unborn couldn't do it better."

Black said when he was selected as a Navy admiral, a Washington Post newspaper reporter asked him when he began to dream about becoming a flag officer. "I said, I actually never dreamed about becoming an admiral in the Navy Chaplain Corps," Black recalls. "No one with my paint job had ever been selected for that, so that wasn't an aspiration.

"But I said I was inspired by a number of people, particularly Martin, to simply seek to be the best that I could be," he said.

He said King inspired him to focus on doing his best and to compete against himself. "Martin also taught me to invest in something greater than myself," the chaplain noted. "He said those who haven't found something worth dying for are not fit to live."

That's why people in military uniforms are so special, he told the military audience, "because you have committed yourself to a cause worth dying for, and I salute you."

"I'm so proud of your accomplishments," Black continued. "Those who have often said that American young people are aimless with no goals, they need to look at our young men and women in uniform. They will see that some of the most special people that God has created are in our armed services.

"And that's what Martin was all about," he pointed out. "He said be ready to invest your life in something that will outlive you.

"Martin left indelible footprints on the sands of time, and he finally taught me to have unstoppable optimism in the power and the ultimate triumph of right," he continued. "You need to focus on doing the right thing and committed to right, for right makes might."

Black quoted King's remarks to a student group in 1967 in a speech entitled, "What Is Your Life's Blueprint?"

"If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper," King said, "sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures. Sweep streets like Beethoven composed music. Sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and Earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well be the best of whatever you are."

After the breakfast participant Tilly Fowler, the Washington Headquarters Services representation funds manager, said, "I attend a Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast here years ago, but this was the most impressive one. It's a very profound event.

"We celebrate a great man, and I'm happy I was here this morning to hear this riveting message from Chaplain Black," she said. "It was very inspiring, and I hope that I can go out and serve humanity like the two of them (King and Black) have done."

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Chaplain Barry C.Black

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Washington Headquarters Services

Click photo for screen-resolution imageTilly Fowler, left, shakes hands with U.S. Senate Chaplain Barry Black after the former chief of Navy chaplains delivered the keynote address for DoD's 19th annual Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast Jan. 22 at the Pentagon. Fowler called Black's speech "riveting." Looking on is sixth grader Kendell Cunningham, 12, of Washington's John Tyler Elementary School, who won the DoD King essay-writing contest. Photo by Rudi Williams  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageU.S. Senate Chaplain Barry Black applauds as Raymond F. DuBois introduces sixth grader Kendell Cunningham, 12, of Washington's John Tyler Elementary School as the winner of DoD's MLK essay writing contest. DuBois is DoD's director of administration and management and director of Washington Headquarters Service. Photo by Rudi Williams  
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