VICKSBURG, Miss. (Jan. 30, 2018)--One speech shook the world and altered the course of human history. One man bravely took a stand, and the seemingly-impenetrable walls of prejudice and hatred began to fall. Martin Luther King, Jr. courageously ascended the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963; he turned to look into faces etched in the raw, harsh experiences of injustice and hatred, faces filled with fear and hopelessness, and he delivered his renowned “I Have a Dream” speech. Hope sparked; bravery bolstered; and healing began. King’s legacy – his words and his works – changed our nation forever, and even more importantly, began the work of changing hearts for generations to come.
His birthday, his life and his legacy are celebrated by an annual national holiday observed in January. The holiday was signed into law in 1983 under President Reagan, but it wasn’t observed until three years later. Some states initially resisted observance of the national holiday; but, by the year 2000, all 50 states recognized and observed the national holiday.
Vicksburg’s Dr. King Memorial Day Committee was formed in 1986, the first year of the holiday observance. The committee awards the Pioneer of the Dream Award to those individuals, agencies and organizations "in recognition of [their] vision, commitment and preservation of King's legacy in Vicksburg and Warren County.” The award was first presented last year during their 31st annual celebration. At this year’s celebration, the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, headquartered in Vicksburg, Mississippi, received the 2018 Pioneer of the Dream Award.
During the early 90’s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began seeking avenues to establish communication and camaraderie with local residents. Marian Diane Brown, an equal employment opportunity specialist at ERDC, formerly known as the Waterways Experiment Station, enlisted the support of Bobbie Bingham Morrow, a management analyst at WES, and they both joined the Dr. King Committee. Through their efforts, three Corps’ EEO offices and their commanders now participate in the annual Dr. King celebration.
Since the early 90’s, the commanders of ERDC, Vicksburg District and the Mississippi Valley Division have brought greetings, Corps’ updates and messages in honor of King to the audience during the program.
Morrow now chairs the committee; Debra Robinson Goodman co-chairs and Linda Thomas serves as a committee member. Goodman and Thomas are ERDC retirees. Program participants are volunteers, and their backgrounds are widely varied: Corps of Engineers commanders, students, musicians, vocalists, prominent speakers, fraternity and sorority leaders, church leaders from several different denominations, and Vicksburg and Warren county residents.
The event is sponsored by the Dr. King Memorial Day Committee, the First Mississippi Chapter of Blacks in Government, the Vicksburg Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the City of Vicksburg. The Warren County Sheriff's Department and Vicksburg’s Police Department also serve as supporters.