by Spc. Michael Vanpool
101st Sustainment Brigade
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - The bus leaving the gates of Fort Campbell, Ky., early in the morning could have driven straight from the dreams of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Every one loaded the bus from the back to the front, no prejudices.
A group of soldiers from the 101st Sustainment Brigade filled the seats and ventured on to the National Civil Rights Museum here, Feb. 28.
The trip took the observance of African American History Month away from the confines of a slide show in a dimly lit room. Instead, the Lifeliners walked through a building that showcased the trials and tribulations of the civil rights movement.
The National Civil Rights Museum was birthed out of the success of the civil rights movement and the tragic violence that occurred at the Lorraine Motel, taking the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., according to the museum website, civilrightsmuseum.org.
“It’s a place where a dreamer, by the name of Dr. Martin Luther King, died and where his dream continues,” said Master Sgt. Aniceto Valencia, the equal opportunity advisor for the brigade, “and you still see that dream become a reality. You can see it in our formation, our neighborhoods, our school systems. It’s very significant.”
The museum sits serves as a reminder and a teacher of the work by not just MLK, but all the pioneers of the civil rights movement that gathered full force just 60 years ago.
“Today, I learned that there were more races involved than just African Americans, like there were Asians and Hispanics, and disabled people,” said Pvt. Kanyetta Chaney, a finance specialist with the 101st Financial Management Company, 101st Special Troops Battalion, 101st Sus. Bde. “So it wasn’t just a march for African Americans, it was a march for everybody.”
The everybody that Chaney talked about were the ones to pour from the buses from Fort Campbell. Soldiers of different races, genders, countries walked through the exhibits together. The words and artifacts told the story of the lives their parents and grandparents lived.
“I was to the point where I was really sad, some of the stuff made me want to cry,” Chaney said. “None of it made me angry or anything, it was just I didn’t know stuff like that really existed. If you look at today, and then back then, people were really going through hard times back then.”
Those hard times popped from the walls to teach those walking by. The typical briefings and the infamous “death by PowerPoint” cannot even dream of reaching soldiers the way the museum did.
“It’s better because you get to walk around and touch and ask questions,” Chaney said. “Here it’s the actual thing with educated people that you can go up to and ask questions about stuff.”
While the Army looks different today versus 50 years ago, the movement continues. Discrimination is being fought with several programs within the military, but education remains the most powerful tool.
“The Army has gone away from segregation, it’s getting away from discrimination, by race, national origin, or even gender,” Valencia said. “Women are breaking new barriers.
“It’s important to address that us as human beings, need to be treated with dignity and respect and treat others with dignity and respect. All of is really rooted in values, it’s rooted in basic human rights. Those values are equally important today as they were back then.”