Story and photos by Ally Cooley
Special to the Mountaineer
Fort Carson community members gathered Monday to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act.
This year’s African-American/ Black History Month event, held at the Special Events Center, focused on the 1964 passage of the Civil Rights Act, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, ending discrimination based on sex, religion, race, color or national origin. The law also ended segregation in public places including schools and in the workforce.
Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Terrance McWilliams shared his experience with the Civil Rights Act.
For more than 30 years McWilliams served on active duty in the Army, joining in the early 1970s. He was first stationed in Europe, where racial tensions were at an all-time high, he said. McWilliams had to deal with Soldiers wearing white sheets in the barracks, burning crosses and many prejudices. Although it was not easy,
McWilliams was able to overcome the obstacles and achieve the
Army’s highest enlisted rank.
He attributes positive change and total inclusion to the Army for overcoming racial segregation.
While McWilliams dealt with discrimination in the Army, he was no stranger to it growing up in central Florida.
As a first-grader, McWilliams said he was the first African-American student to attend an integrated school in his community upon the insistence of his mother. His mother had to pay a penalty when he accidentally drank out of the wrong water fountain. He had an uncle killed by the Ku Klux Klan for getting a 17-cent raise, which made him a foreman at his job.
McWilliams worked picking oranges to earn 50 cents a week. Thankful for the Civil Rights Act, he can’t help but wonder if he would have risen to the rank of command sergeant major without it, or would he still be in Florida picking oranges.
“Fifty years since the Civil Rights (Act) we have come a long way, but we still have much more to do in the next 50 years,” he said. “The Civil Rights Act has benefited all races and can be applicable to all — my children are benefactors of the act.”
McWilliams believes the point of African-American/Black History Month is to educate and reinforce so that we know where we were, where we are and where we have to get to.
“There is work to be done, work of leaders and institutions like the U.S. Army,” said Col. Mike Tarsa, acting senior commander, 4th Infantry Division and Fort Carson.
Chuck Limbrick sang and played the keyboard, sharing songs from famous African-American musicians Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles. Following the musical selections, attendees were treated to samples of traditional foods, including chicken wings, hush puppies and corn on the cob.