- The Washington Times - Monday, January 17, 2000

Colin Powell never got the chance to march in the civil rights movement behind Martin Luther King Jr. He was a young officer in Vietnam.

But his character and devotion to community service earned him one of King's most prized legacies.

Gen. Powell and three others received King Legacy Awards for International and National Service yesterday at a breakfast at the Willard Hotel in Northwest, Washington, D.C.

Deeds, not words, were honored.

The theme for today's holiday honoring King is a day of service: A day on, not a day off.

"If we're raising children that don't have character, then we've failed [Mr. King]," Mr. Powell, now a retired general, said. "I ask you all to rededicate yourselves this morning.

"The dream was for his children, remember?"

The other honorees were former D.C. schools Superintendent Floretta Dukes McKenzie; German Ambassador Juergen Chrobog; Croatian Ambassador Miomir Zuzul; and Thelma T. Daley, recipient of the Dorothy I. Height Leadership Award.

Past King Legacy Award recipients include Robert Dole, Jesse Jackson and U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee.

"We'll never reach the achievements of Dr. King," Mrs. McKenzie said. "But, goodness knows we can do better than we do."

Mrs. Height walks with a cane these days, but she is still active. She chairs the National Council of Negro Women and is a civil rights legend in her own right.

She remembers a young King at age 15, who had just enrolled at Morehouse College. Before he was a Baptist pastor, she saw a leader in the making.

She quoted one of King's writings from those early days yesterday, saying "anyone can be great, because anyone can volunteer to serve."

"The progress we have made has made it hard for our young people to understand how hard it was to struggle for change," she said. "This is a time for us … in this century to practice the message he taught."

Last week, Gov. James S. Gilmore III of Virginia proposed separating the state's current holiday for Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and King into two separate holidays, keeping Lee-Jackson Day to honor two beloved sons of Virginia, and a separate holiday to honor King.

After all the awards were handed out and the speeches finished, the gathering truly fulfilled one of King's dreams.

The audience of 100 and the honorees stood swaying with crossed arms and hands joined. The old stood with the young. Black hands held white hands. In different accents, everyone sang "We Shall Overcome."

Many bear witness to his achievements.

On Aug. 28, 1963, Imagene Stewart was a young woman from Georgia standing among 200,000 people, listening at the edge of the Reflecting Pool to the charged words of King.

Thirty years later, on her lunch break in 1993, she climbed the Lincoln Memorial, step by step in her heels and satiny green dress. She was 50 at the time, and the climb was tiring.

She saw herself as she had been then, a 20-year-old woman in a straw hat and a summer dress, clutching a small camera and crying as King spoke.

"I didn't have a change of clothes," Mrs. Stewart said in a 30-year-anniversary story on King published by The Washington Times in 1993. "I was picking cotton. No life skills. Two babies."

Now a prominent D.C. minister, Mrs. Stewart has grown from a poor Georgia girl and unwed teen-age mother to a married woman with two grown sons and a very full life.

She's held a management-level job in the U.S. Government Printing Office. She is vice chairwoman at the P Street NW shelter that bears her name. "Some of us were sleeping outside, and some were sleeping in hotels," Mrs. Stewart recalls of that day.

"I had thought all colored people were poor and in poverty like me. But that's when I found out that there were some black folk who were doing all right back in August 1963, because they came [to the march] in limousines."

Taking what Mrs. Stewart heard Martin Luther King say that day and keeping his message alive for children who have only a vague notion of King's work is tough these days.

Children aren't hearing King's passionate message these days because the messengers now charge groups $10,000 to $20,000 to hear them speak," she says. "Even Dr. King's children, you can't afford to hear them speak.

"Thirty years ago, everyone was working together against racism. People today better wake up."

Gen. Powell recalled that part of his role as an Army officer was to lead young men into battle. Now that he is no longer a soldier, he has another message for young people.

"I hope this award is for my service now, not just for my service as soldier," he said.

Since 1997, Gen. Powell has chaired America's Promise The Alliance for Youth, a nationwide program to increase development support for the country's youth. He speaks to youngsters, telling them work hard in school and stay away from drugs and alcohol.

Gen. Powell will be traveling today, but said he will make up for not treating King's holiday as a "day on," by talking to youth in Nebraska tomorrow.

The sacrifices King and others made during the civil rights movement cleared the way for him to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Powell said.

"I was not in that great crusade I was a soldier. Even though I was away from the struggle I could see the struggle. But the sacrifices they made help me reach the top of my profession."

Will Toussaint contributed to this report.

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