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Luncheon speaker recalls civil rights era

45th Operations Group Commander Col. Bernard Gruber presents Donald Williams with a piece of Patrick AFB runway as a token of thanks for speaking at the 45th Space Wing’s Martin Luther King Jr. memorial luncheon Tuesday at The Tides. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jim Laviska)

45th Operations Group Commander Col. Bernard Gruber presents Donald Williams with a piece of Patrick AFB runway as a token of thanks for speaking at the 45th Space Wing’s Martin Luther King Jr. memorial luncheon Tuesday at The Tides. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jim Laviska)

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- The 45th Space Wing honored the work and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Tuesday with a luncheon at The Tides.

1st Lt. Janice Davis from the 45th Medical Group served as master of ceremonies.
"Dr. King would have been 79 years old this year. We commemorate the timeless values he taught us through his example--the values of courage, truth, justice, compassion, dignity, humility and service," said Lieutenant Davis.

During the meal, Dr. King's famous 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech was played over the loudspeakers.

With the meal finished, Lieutenant Davis introduced guest speaker Donald Williams. Mr. Williams is a native of Columbus, Ohio. He grew up in Homestead, Pa. where he graduated high school. He went to the University of Pittsburgh and Penn State College.

During the summer of 1942, he enrolled in a mechanical drafting course at the University of Pittsburgh, which was a government sponsored course that enabled him to get on the Federal Civil Service Register. Later that year, he was called to Washington, D.C. to work for the War Department as a statistical draftsman. In August of 1943, he was inducted into the Army Air Corps. He took basic training at Keesler Army Air Field in Biloxi, Miss. Mr. Williams served at Tuskegee Army Air Field as a draftsman doing mechanical and statistical drafting. A statistical draftsman, he charted the progress made by cadets in the training programs. He now lives in Merritt Island.

Mr. Williams spoke briefly about the early history of African-Americans in aviation and the civil rights movement, before talking about his time in the Army.

After basic training he was assigned to Malden Army Air Base in Missouri. There, "I was one of only 18 men who had white collar jobs. All the others, men with college educations, were in officers' quarters shining shoes," he said.

Soon Mr. Williams was transferred to Tuskegee Air Base in Alabama. "It was the best time of my life," he recalled.

"The contributions Dr. King made in the war against racism were a continuation of the accomplishments of the Tuskegee Airmen," he said.