Lt. Col. Dawson Plummer, a Fort Benning commander, considers the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. a personal hero.
On Wednesday, he reflected on the hardships encountered by King and other civil rights activists on the road to integration – and he was grateful.
“What that means is that somebody like me could graduate from school and be commissioned in the United States Army and from there be promoted to captain, major, achieve the rank of lieutenant colonel and become a battalion commander,” Plummer said at a press conference at the military base. “Although we still have some small aspects of racism, the United States is probably the best melting pot the world could ever have.”
Plummer, commander of the 1st Battalion, 81st Armor Regiment, 194th Armored Brigade, made his comments before speaking before a crowd of about 200 at a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Service hosted by the military base. The theme of the event, held in the Derby Auditorium at McGinnis-Wickam Hall, was “Remember! Celebrate! Act! A Day On, Not a Day Off.”
Also participating in the program were students from Martin Luther King Elementary School, who presented a special rendition of King’s “I Have a Dream Speech,” on a stage where a photo of King loomed in the background. Major Daniel Landrum sang both the U.S. and black national anthems.
In opening remarks, Fort Benning Commander General H.R. McMaster highlighted the link between African-American military service and the “long, ongoing struggle for equality.”
“Long before the Civil War in the 1860s removed the blight of slavery from our nation and long before the struggle for Civil Rights secured key victories in the 1960s, African-Americans fought for their nation in every war, knowing that the great American experiment in democracy and freedom based on our belief in unalienable rights – especially that all men are created equal – was still a work in progress,” he said. “The U.S. military reflected inequalities in American society while also playing a vital role in dispelling the myths and eroding the racism that underpinned those inequalities.”
Plummer, a graduate of Tuskegee University, has a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology. He is a veteran of multiple tours in Iraq. Prior to assuming his position at Fort Benning, he served as the battalion commander of the 4th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division in Camp Taji, Iraq, and Fort Bliss, Texas. He has received numerous military awards, including the Bronze Star Medal with two oak leaf clusters, Meritorious Service Medal with three oak leaf clusters, Army Commendation with two oak leaf clusters, and the Army Achievement Medal with two oak leaf clusters.
In his speech, Plummer stressed the progress that has been achieved in the area of civil rights the past 50 years, especially in the military.
“One thing that military and eventually our government could agree on was that bullets and bombs, when fired by America’s enemies, did not discriminate,” he said. “Progressing from all black units to integrated units seen in the Korean War, the military started to recognize the importance of working together regardless of race. And coupled with the work of civil rights activists, Dr. King Jr. included, our military is still today one of the best equal opportunity employers in the United States.”