To Honor Martin Luther King Jr.

January 14, 2011



Martin Luther King Jr-inspired boubou

David Brown, senior advisor, U.S. Africa Command Strategy, Plans and Programs wrote:

I am proud of Martin Luther King not only as a great American, but as one of the greatest men of the 20th century.   To honor him, for the last eight years I have worn a “boubou” with his image on it on January 15, his birthday.  A boubou is African in origin, and is worn by men, usually with pants on the bottom and a shirt on top with long, flowing cloth.  My special boubou was a gift given to me in 2002, when I served as the Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) at the U.S. Embassy in Cotonou, Benin.  (The delightful country of Benin is located in West Africa, west of Nigeria.)   At the time, our Ambassador, Pamela Bridgewater, myself, and other members of the Embassy’s country team were invited by a vizir, a local tribal royalty, to attend the annual festival that he had organized to honor Martin Luther King.   This Beninese tribal leader, whose village was in central-eastern Benin, was very fond of the United States and had such a deep admiration for Martin Luther King that he had organized a festival of song, music, dance, and art to honor Dr. King.  The vizir also had specially made, at great expense, African wax print boubous with Dr. King’s image and presented one to me as a gift – the personal treasure that I wear today at Africom, the U.S. Africa Command in Stuttgart, Germany — where I have served as since July 2010 as an embedded representative of the U.S. Department of State. 

I am now in my 50s and grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina in the 1960s – a period of time when the United States, and its south in particular, had not yet fully shed the horrible vestiges of discrimination against African-Americans.  I remember to this day my third-grade teacher, Mrs. Lockamy, an African-American, who explained to me that only a handful of years earlier, there were still segregated water fountains (and toilets) in North Carolina with signs like “Whites Only” on them.   With the innocence of a child, I was profoundly shocked that my country treated its own citizens in this way, and could not understand why.  At the time Raleigh was still a relatively poor town, and going with my mother to drop off Francis, an African-American woman, at her home, an unpainted wood structure in the woods outside of Raleigh – a home that could have been built in the 19th century.  When I was in 6th grade, I was among the first year of students bused from the comfortable, upper-middle class homes of north Raleigh, to the poor ghetto of south Raleigh.  I’ll never forget how awful the school facilities were at Crosby-Garfield Elementary compared to my old elementary school – E.C. Brooks — and also noted how quickly money was spent to fix up this south Raleigh school.   Later, in high school, I learned about the 1954 Supreme Court decision, “Brown versus Topeka Board of Education,” a landmark decision which threw out “separate but equal” as an ‘acceptable’ way for our country to segregate whites and African-Americans in schools.  As I knew from my elementary school experience, “separate” in America at the time was never equal, and it was only after little white children started to attend Crosby-Garfield that it was made to look as nice as E.C. Brooks.

Fortunately, the United States is a great nation, and during the half-century plus of my lifetime, we have made tremendous strides in terms of equality for all of our citizens.  This, in great, great part due to the life and ultimate sacrifice made by Dr. Martin Luther King.   Our President, Barack Obama, is a son both of Africa through his father, and a son of other immigrant stock to the United States through his mother.   I am proud of our President, just as I am a deep admirer of Dr. King – the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.   I intend to continue to wear my Martin Luther King boubou with pride every year around his birthday for many years to come.    

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