By Rob Schuette, The Real McCoy Staff
Injustices that African-American people experienced are not all
ancient history, and the nation is not so far removed from them that
they couldn't happen again, said the guest speaker at the Fort McCoy
observance of Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday.
Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice
Louis Butler talks at a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. observance at
(Photo by William Kern)
Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler spoke to a large
audience at McCoy's Jan. 7 and addressed the topic that King's dream
of freedom, equality and justice for everyone is still relevant today.
King's birthday is observed as a federal holiday on the third Monday
of January, which was Jan. 21.
Service was an important part of King's legacy. In light of
that legacy, members of the military who are serving today, including
thousands of Wisconsin servicemembers, are protecting the country and
helping to keep the dream of freedom alive, Butler said.
"Today and every day, we honor your sacrifices," he
said. "And, also the sacrifices of your family."
African-American people have endured many negative experiences
throughout the country's history, with Butler's own family having many
experiences that illustrated the lives of African-Americans in the
United States. He said one of his ancestors was a freed slave, who hid
slaves in flour barrels, covered them in hay and snuck them out of
town while pretending to go on a hayride and singing.
A grandfather, who had an engineering degree, could only find
work as a postal clerk. He also served in World War I in an
African-American only unit.
Butler has not experienced such things, but during his own life
he has heard about and/or seen fire bombings, white's-only signs on
beaches in Chicago where he grew up, and other areas that were marked
off limits to African-Americans.
"Our parents told us that to succeed we had to be twice as
good as others (white people)," Butler said. "The memory of
Dr. King is that nothing is handed to us on a silver platter."
In the almost 45 years since King's "I Have a Dream"
speech, African-Americans have made many advances. The Voting Rights
Act of 1964 helped ensure everyone had the right to vote.
During the term of President Nixon, affirmative action
initiatives helped level the playing field and opened doors, although
sometimes just barely, Butler said.
Butler used his opportunities to attend Lawrence University, a
private college in Appleton, Wis., that was rated as the 56th best
liberal arts college in the annual 2008 U.S. News and World Report
Best Colleges issue, before attending and graduating from the
University of Wisconsin Law School.
"We did not get here alone," he said. "We can't
forget the help we had along the way. We are standing on the backs of
those who came before us."
Still African-Americans have a ways to go, he said.
For all the advances that African-Americans have made, everyone
of African-American descent who attended the observance likely has
experienced some instances of discrimination to themselves or around
themselves, he said.
African-Americans have lower annual average wages and graduate
from high school in Wisconsin at a lower rate than their white
counterparts, he said.
In an issue that particularly hits home for him as a state
supreme court justice of African-American descent, Butler said
African-Americans have higher criminal incarceration rates than their
white counterparts in Wisconsin -- indeed the rate is among the
highest in the country.
King and others in the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s-60s
were willing to stand up to injustices by putting their freedom and
lives on the line to open the door of opportunity. Butler said King
fought for, and died for, the cause.
Master Sgt. Eric Doré, Fort McCoy Equal Opportunity adviser,
and Installation Commander Col. Derek J. Sentinella, emphasized to the
attendees that the federal observance of King's birthday wasn't meant
as just another day off. Personnel could use that day to remember the
significant contributions of King, his wife, and their children or to
serve their communities, Doré‚ said.
Sentinella said personnel also could use the day to read about
King's words and life -- how he emphasized equal justice under the law
and the concept of Americans fulfilling the dream of life, liberty and
pursuit of happiness.
King's nonviolent approach helped encourage people to stand up
for what was right. Sentinella said personnel who read about the
sacrifices King and others made can use his teachings as an example to
turn to the next chapter, not just in their lives but in the lives of
The next observance the Fort McCoy EO Office will sponsor is
Thursday, Feb. 14 in honor of Black History Month. The event will run
from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. at McCoy's, building 1571.
For more information, refer to the flyer or call the EO Office
at (608) 388-3246.