I have a very special connection to with the Lincoln Memorial. If you want to know why, you will have to know my story.
I grew up in D.C. Decided to join the military as a young man. Which I did. And then the Korean War started and I was sent to Korea in 1952 ... as we were going over, me and some old friends of mine, we were all Negroes, and the guys would say, wow, man, this is really something. We goin' to war to fight for someone else's freedom, and don't have any freedom ourselves back home. And I was with the Second Infantry Division, the Division, it was the one that had the most casualties of the war itself. And I do have two Purple Hearts from that part of the war.
As the war went on, I was wounded and I was sent to Japan, and while I was there the Japanese people treated me just like I was supposed to be - a human being. Tour of duty was up in Korea and we were sent back to America. When we docked a friend, as we were walking of the ship, he said, "It's good to be back in America." All of us felt great to be back home again. That morning they picked us up, put us on buses and took us up to Richmond, California. It's early in the morning, I guess about nine thirty, maybe ten o'clock. We walked in and guys were sitting around eating so we, as a bunch, we sat down at a table. And we waited for the waitress to come, so we were hollerin', "waitress, waitress." And the young ladies they just walked around like we wasn't there. And that's when a friend of mine say, "whoa, we are back in America again. Here, just like it was when we left, a so-called second class citizen." And it actually brought tears to my eyes and the friends that I was with... That was the hardest part, comin' back home. You go overseas to fight for someone else's freedom and you come back home - was none there, at all for you, and it was a hard thing.
Now, now I got a family myself. So I'm carryin' the kids around to memorials 'cause I had to take 'em because I was there with my family, took me when I was a young man. So my first memorial we went to was Lincoln Memorial. I heard a lot about Lincoln Memorial when I was in school, and I really, now I'm an adult, I want to see what this is really about. So we climbed the steps, my two children, and we go into the chamber ... And to me, it really hit me. Really hard. Because at that time this country was still segregated, and what I had read about this man, he's sayin' that every man is created equal. And when I turn around and look I say no, this can't be true. Because my country's not treating me as equal as everyone else here. You know, and that was a hard thing for me to stomach.
There was a young man I heard about, this young person called Martin Luther King, really pushing civil rights. And I had never seen the gentleman, I've only heard him to speak through tapes that other people had. But one day, come to find out that this young preacher was gonna come to the Lincoln Memorial and stand on the steps....and stand on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the same place that other great people like Marion Anderson stood and sung, because she was denied singing in places before. So I decided to take off that day ... And I rushed down to the Lincoln Memorial to get me a seat down front 'cause I really wanted to see him. But as the crowd grew I didn't care because I'm down front and I'm going to be able to see ... this man speak. And as he spoke the words flowed out of his mouth just like honey. I can just imagine how Lincoln felt when he was up at Gettysburg making his speech.
And as today, I really saw something that I never figure I would never see, a African-American being President of this great country. I never thought I'd see it. I'm in my seventies and I figure I would be long gone from this earth, and maybe my children will see it coming, but I'm here. And now I'm really proud to be an American. I am proud of my country. They tried to silence Lincoln by assassinating him. It didn't work. Martin Luther King went out there and he spoke, and they tried to silence him and what happened? The word got louder and louder and you can see now the country is pullin' theirselves together. And at the moment I'm tryin' to hold back these tears because I am very happy. I have gone through hell for my country and they told me you are nothing, but now I've come to find out I am something.
And I think that's all I'm gonna have to say. Yes. That's it.