• Luncheon helps post honor King legacy

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  • Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
    The Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth sponsored the Martin Luther King Jr. Day observance luncheon Jan. 17 at the Frontier Conference Center. This year marks the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination on April 4, 1968.
    Bobby Watson, a Grammy-nominated saxophonist, producer, composer and educator from Kansas City, Mo., served as guest speaker. Watson was inducted into the Kansas Music Hall of Fame in 2011 and received the Benny Golson Jazz Master Award from Howard University in 2013.
    Raised in Lawrence, Kan., and later Kansas City, Watson said he always attended integrated schools growing up and didn’t know much about African-American history.
    “I have spoken with many of my friends my age and they were prey to the same indoctrination. This was not the case for many black families, I learned later. It was a source of anger and disappointment later in my young life as I became aware of the struggle in high school and later college,” Watson said. “We didn’t talk much black history at the house. We were basically church folks. That was the core of our life … We were raised to believe that we could accomplish anything if we had the desire and drive, but had to do it twice as good. So, in a strange way, we were raised ‘white.’”
    Watson said he only began to truly learn about black history when King was assassinated, and it ignited his desire to learn more.
    “The more I became aware of my history, the more I felt bamboozled, as Malcom (X) used to say, and I still wonder to this day, ‘What else don’t I know about black history?’” Watson said.
    Watson said his wife, Pam, has been a huge source of gaining knowledge as, unlike him, she attended all-black schools through high school.
    “She has been a constant source of information and enlightenment about black history,” Watson said. “Meeting her was a turning point in my journey of discovery.”
    With that, Watson began to learn about several iconic African-American figures, including Bass Reeves, the true Lone Ranger and first black U.S. Marshal in the Oklahoma region; Major Taylor, an African-American world champion cyclist who competed around the world; Isaac Murphy, the first jockey to win three Kentucky Derbies and considered to be the greatest jockey of all time; and Jim Crow, inventor of drive-in movies and restaurants.
    “I was thinking about my next self-produced project … and my agent suggested I do a tribute to MLK for the 50th anniversary of the march on Washington, Aug. 28, 1963,” Watson said. “I was aware of the anniversary but wanted to do something that was not so cliché. The dream speech is up there with the Gettysburg Address and other great speeches. I have heard many musical tributes to the speech over the years that focused on the ‘I Have a Dream’ portion and didn’t want to add to that stack of works, so I found the entire speech and started to see what I could gain from it.”
    Page 2 of 2 - From there, Watson said he searched for another part of King’s speech to focus on and it eventually led to the inspiration for “Check Cashing Day,” an album released in 2013 by Watson and the “I Have a Dream” Project.
    “In a sense, we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir,” Watson said quoting King. “This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked insufficient funds. So, we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.”
    Watson said he always tries to include injustices in his music without creating hate.
    “I have pretty much dedicated the rest of my life to using my music to enlighten the younger ones, and sometimes the older ones. The liberal use of the N-word among our youth, the sagging of the pants and the disrespect of our women let me know that we need to remind them that the movement is not over,” Watson said.
    “I truly believe that there are good, loving people in this country and around the world … I’m so thankful to be born in this country. There are other great countries with cultures that are far older than ours, but I know that because of our multi-racial (and) cultural history, that this has the greatest potential and is the most innovative country in the world.”
    Watson ended with one more quote from King’s 1963 speech.
    “This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism,” he quoted. “Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.”
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