[ The Real McCoy Online Home ]                                                                                                                    January 25, 2008

State Supreme Court justice talks about King's dream

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.

Photo: Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler talks at a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. observance at Fort McCoy. (Photo by William Kern)
Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler talks at a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. observance at Fort McCoy. 
(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 others.

      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.


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