Navy Leader Given Rare Look at Civil Rights Legend Dr. Martin Luther King

Story Number: NNS110118-14Release Date: 1/18/2011 4:46:00 PM
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By Lt. Laura K. Stegherr, Navy Diversity Directorate Public Affairs

WASHINGTON (NNS) -- The legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came alive for one Navy leader during a visit to the Morehouse College Martin Luther King Jr. Collection in Atlanta in December 2010.

Steffanie Easter, assistant deputy chief of naval operations for manpower, personnel, training and education, had the chance to visit the collection during a December visit to the college when she participated as a keynote speaker in the Morehouse Leadership Center's "Conversations on Leadership Ethics" lecture.

According to Easter, the visit to the collection was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that happened by chance.

"As a part of the introduction when I arrived at the leadership institute, I was told by Dr. Vicki Crawford, director, Morehouse College Martin Luther King Jr. Collection, that they had the opportunity to acquire the papers," said Easter. "She asked if I was interested in seeing them. So I responded, "Am I interested in seeing them? Of course I am!"

The collection was first acquired by King's alma mater in 2006, when it was first processed and organized by the archival staff of the Robert W. Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center. It encompasses more than 10,000 items from King's life and work spanning from 1944 to 1968, and includes more than a thousand books from King's personal library, hundreds of handwritten notes, speeches, manuscripts, sermons and other writings.

Additionally, the collection provides a unique look at the day-to-day activities of King and includes several unique personal items, such as a telegram from President Lyndon B. Johnson, memoranda to other famous civil rights leaders, credit card receipts, travel coupons, examination blue books from college, "to do" lists and even a briefcase with cosmetics containers.

One item in particular that stood out to Easter was one that many people believe to be a legacy of King - a transcript of his "I Have a Dream" speech. Next to it was a draft speech entitled "A Cancelled Check," believed to be perhaps the draft that King intended on delivering during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom Aug. 28, 1963.

"The most memorable thing that I learned from my visit was that the 'I Have a Dream' speech given during the March on Washington was not the exact speech that he had intended to give at that event," said Easter. "It was believed that during his speech while he was at the podium, [African American gospel singer] Mahalia Jackson shouted out, 'Tell them about the dream, Martin!' And that's when he began the words we all remember, the 'I Have a Dream' speech."

"And I just found that totally amazing, unbelievable, that probably one of the most compelling speeches in history was impromptu," said Easter. "I've always admired Dr. King, but this convinced me that what he spoke to was in him, that it came from the depths of his heart and his mind. And I'm convinced now more than ever that the 'I Have a Dream' speech was definitely an internal speech - it was something that he truly, truly, believed and lived by."

King's legacy is honored each January on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The observance was established by President Ronald Reagan in 1983 and was first officially celebrated Jan. 15, 1986, the anniversary of King's birthday. With the theme of "Remember! Celebrate! Act! A Day On, Not a Day Off," the observance is commemorated today as a day of service, during which Americans reflect on the principles of equality and civil rights that King championed.

More information on the Morehouse College Martin Luther King Jr. Collection can be found at

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