BENNINGTON -- Brigadier Gen. Barrye Price, Deputy Chief of Staff at U.S. Army Forces Command in Fort Bragg, N.C., spoke at Southern Vermont College on Thursday and about the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
"This is a remarkable leader, a truly outstanding leader," said SVC President Karen Gross of Price, who received an honorary doctorate from SVC in May 2013.
Price encouraged everyone to participate by vocalizing an "mmm" when they heard a fact that they didn't know about Dr. King, and saying "mmm-hmm" when they heard something they knew already. As the presentation, which lasted about an hour, went on, it became clear that there were to be far more "mmms" than "mmm-hmms" coming from the audience.
Price began by talking about King's childhood. "King became an unlikely champion for the impoverished, because he didn't grow up poor," said Price. He told the story of his father, Rev. Martin Luther King Sr., whose "chutzpah," as Price put it, was a major inspiration for the younger King. One example given by Price involved King Sr., who had just been pulled over for rolling through a stop sign. The white police officer started to address King Sr., "Boy "
King Sr. immediately gestured to his son in the passenger's seat, "This, sir, is a boy. I am a man."
In another story from King's childhood, he was told by the white mother of two of his friends that "My boys are getting too old to play with [n-word]s," after which King ran home to seek comfort from his mother.
"Don't allow this situation to define you," said his mother, "Don't allow it to make you feel that you're any different than anyone else." These experiences, as well as a summer trip to desegregated Connecticut, were "transformative" for King, said Price.
Price described a King who would send people to scout out area jails before protests, to find out how many people they could hold. He would then ask for volunteers who were able to afford a few days in prison without losing their jobs, and, knowing the capacity of the jails, would put enough volunteers in between police and those who could not afford to be arrested as were necessary. He told the story of a King who greatly admired the passive resistance of Jesus Christ and Mohandas Gandhi. He spoke of a King who broke ties with his longtime friend and ally Lyndon B. Johnson over Vietnam, because, in King's words, "War is a poor chisel to carve out peace."
After the lecture, Price fielded questions from the students and community members in attendance. Asked about what he thought King would think about today's world, Price replied, "I think on racial lines he would be very pleased on the progress we've made. On economic lines, and the disparities between the halves, he would be disappointed. He was a civil rights advocate for everybody, not just black people."
Price also spoke about his own formative influences. Katie Hall, who served as a U.S. Representative from 1982-1985, and led the legislative drive to make King's birthday a federal holiday, had been his 7th-grade social studies teacher.
"As we celebrate King's life," said Price in closing, "I'd ask that we'd not focus on the oration, not to focus on the dream, but to focus on the impact he had. He teaches us that one person can make a difference."
The lecture, "Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Man Behind the Legend," was part of a series hosting by SVC entitled "Look Within, See Beyond: Nurturing Growth and Resilience." There will be two more lectures in the series, with authors Alexandria Peary, Megan Mayhew Bergman, and Andre Dubus III presenting as a panel on "Art for Art's Sake, or Art as Social Change" on Feb. 13, and Maggie Dietz offering a presentation entitled, "A Community Reads Favorite Poems," on April 10.
Price was the 1985 Distinguished Military Graduate from the University of Houston's College of Business Administration. He then received his master's degree from Texas A&M in 1994, and in 1997 became the first African-American to obtain a doctorate from the university's history department. He also earned a master's degree in National Security Strategy in 2004 from the National Defense University.
Price has also had a distinguished military career in which he earned multiple medals, including the Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star Medal, Army Commendation and Achievement medals, Southwest Asia Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Medal, and Airborne and Air Assault badges. In 2000, he served on a task force commissioned by President Bill Clinton and first lady Hillary Clinton on "Raising Responsible and Resourceful Teenagers," and served on President Clinton's "Mississippi Delta Task Force."
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB