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Posted 1/24/2014

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By Ryan McClymont
District Public Affairs Office

The Civil Rights Act was signed into law on July 2, 1964, due to the hard work and devotion of civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr.

Fifty years later the San Francisco District traveled back in time thanks to A.R. Smith, SPN chief of Safety and Occupational Health, sharing his experiences of joining the Army in 1964, at the age of 18, and the civil rights challenges and changes he saw throughout his 21 year military career. The district EEO office hosted the joint San Francisco District/South Pacific Division event to commemorate the legacy of Dr. King Jan. 22.

Smith spoke about the challenges of being singled out and tested in the Army simply because of the color of his skin.

“When I was coming up, Martin Luther King inspired me to do well in the military, I stood up for myself, worked hard and excelled,” said Smith.

Smith became a trailblazer for African-Americans in the military, achieving promotions, earning leadership positions and being the first African-American to graduate from the Explosive Ordnance Disposal School. Not only did Smith graduate, but he graduated with honors.

“I had to work hard, put up with abuse, I was tested, but I made it,” said Smith. “A lot of things have changed and they have changed for the better.”

John McCoy, a district budget analyst, who joined the Marine Corps in 1969, expressed similar experiences to Smith as he described inequality and racism he saw during his military career.

“I learned to get along and to be strong enough to overcome any adversity that I had to deal with,” said McCoy. “As far as Martin Luther King is concerned, the legacy he left, that is what has gotten us to where we are now.”

Over 30 district employees attended the event and many attendees shared their own experiences with civil rights issues. In the end, the consensus was that things have come a long way since 1964, but we still have work to do to achieve equality for all.