Samantha L. Quigley, American Forces Press Service
D.C. — As Pentagon employees celebrated what would have been
Martin Luther King Jr.’s
80th birthday Jan. 15, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told of an
early participant in the struggle for equal rights, a young
Drummond was born a free man in New York in 1843, and at the age of 18
he enlisted in the Navy. While serving aboard the USS Morning Light in
the Gulf of Mexico, he was shot three times and was taken prisoner.
After a miraculous escape and return to Union lines, he re-enlisted in
his war wounds failed to heal properly, he became the first patient of
any color at the Old Naval Hospital on Capitol Hill," Gates said.
"Drummond was discharged in 1868, and years later received a
disability pension of $4 a month, just over a dollar per gunshot
"... we should remember Benjamin Drummond ... who
faithfully defended this nation ..."
also was less than half the amount normally allotted for whites, Gates
said. Drummond fought for an increase, and he eventually received a
lump-sum payment of $210 just before his death. His wife then began
her fight for what was then called a widow’s pension.
Drummonds’ struggle for what they were due foretold, both literally
and figuratively, the promissory note to which Dr. King referred from
the steps of the Lincoln Memorial nearly a century later," Gates
said. "There, in his words, he came to cash the check of freedom
and equality that (had) been returned marked "insufficient
five days, (President-elect Barack Obama) will place his hand on the
same Bible that President Lincoln used in his inauguration in March
1861," he said. "As all of our citizens watch the historic
events of the next week, we should remember Benjamin Drummond and
countless others, who faithfully defended this nation long before
their duty and devotion had been earned or acknowledged."
inauguration would have been affirming for those who never had the
chance, or even imagined it possible, to carry out the orders of a
commander in chief of African descent, Gates said.
believe (they) will be looking down on the front steps of the Capitol
with a measure of pride and satisfaction for themselves and for our
country," he said.
ceremony included a keynote address by Russell L. Adams, Howard
University professor emeritus of African-American studies, and musical
selections by Afro Blue, Howard University’s premier vocal jazz
ensemble. Four John Tyler Elementary School students, winners of the
annual art and essay contest associated with the celebration, were
honored as well. The theme was "Dr. King’s vision of unity in
nation observed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday Jan. 19.