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News | Jan. 22, 2014

From the Civil War to Civil Rights

By DIA Public Affairs

In celebration of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, the Defense Intelligence Agency sponsored a field trip for employees to visit the "Tell it with Pride" exhibition at the National Gallery of Art Jan. 16. The exhibit honors the 54th Massachusetts Regiment and recognizes the 150th anniversary of the regiment's participation in the Battle of Fort Wagner.

The 54th Regiment was one of the first African-American regiments formed during the Civil War. The exhibition celebrates the renowned Augustus Saint-Gaudens' Shaw Memorial, which depicts soldiers marching toward Fort Wagner near Charleston, S.C., July 18, 1863, led by Col. Robert Gould Shaw.

Despite their defeat, the battle was considered a turning point because it proved that African-Americans' bravery and patriotism equaled that of the most celebrated heroes. Many African-Americans offered to fight for the Union from the onset of war in 1861, but only after the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 were they legally permitted to enlist.

The rights movement did not start and end in the 1950s and '60s. According to the exhibit, it was a common philosophy among Civil War-era African-American soldiers that they must fight directly and actively for their own freedom. It is this sentiment that carried through the following century and became central to King's vision. 

An American clergyman, activist and prominent leader in the movement, King's pioneering efforts led to the 1963 March on Washington, where he delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. He asserted that institutionalized racism violated the highest values proclaimed in America's most fundamental documents: the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

 Click here to view the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute presentation on the history of King.