DLA director returns to speak at Hampton University Founder’s Day

By Chris Erbe

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Defense Logistics Agency Director Army Lt. Gen. Darrell K. Williams delivered the keynote address at his alma mater, Hampton University, Jan. 28. This year’s Founder’s Day ceremony marked the 150th year since a former Union officer, Army Brig. Gen. Samuel Chapman Armstrong, established the school in Hampton, Virginia, in 1868.

“It’s difficult to put into words how honored my wife Myra and I are to be back at our ‘home by the sea,’” Williams said, using the nickname for the university, which is bordered on three sides by water. “Hampton is where we first met, where we developed friendships that persist to this day and where I began my journey toward a career in the military.”

Hampton University celebrates a special history as one of America’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Following the Civil War, recently freed slaves found themselves in a dire situation. While the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 gave enslaved African Americans in Confederate states their freedom, they were impoverished, with no education or skills to compete for a better life. Armstrong, a white officer and commander of U.S. Colored Troops during the war, made it his life’s work to establish a school for the education of African Americans.

Armstrong’s vision was to establish a teacher’s college, a school whose curriculum included academics, such as English, geography and mathematics, as well as skilled trades, like bricklaying, plastering and carpentry. In addition, he stressed character development — honor, morality, judgment and foresight. He tied all three areas together by proclaiming that the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, as it was known, offered an education for the “head, the heart and the hand.”

Not one to be shy about making controversial decisions, in 1878, Armstrong opened the doors of Hampton for the education of another oppressed people — Native Americans.

To explain Armstrong’s motivations, Williams read from a Civil War-era letter Armstrong wrote to his mother while he commanded black troops. “It is no sacrifice for me to be here; it is rather a glorious opportunity,” Armstrong wrote. “I have felt, and do feel, like a very apostle of human liberty striking the deadliest possible blow at oppression; and what duty is more glorious than that?”

During his remarks, Williams referred to the hopes and dreams of generations of Americans who had received an education at Hampton, a theme that resonated through his own story.

“For me, it started in 1979 in West Palm Beach, Florida, when my family placed me on an Amtrak train bound for Hampton Institute,” Williams said. “All I had were two small suitcases and a foot locker, but in those bags were the ‘hopes and dreams’ of generations of people on both sides of my family, and in my community, who never had the opportunity to pursue a college education.”

Williams also used his remarks to recognize the 40th anniversary of the longest-serving president of Hampton University in its history, President William Harvey.

Williams said of Harvey, “What a leader and visionary he has been, masterfully guiding the university through unprecedented growth and improvement in its academics, facilities, finances and student experience.”

Under Harvey’s watch, the school has implemented 92 new academic programs, erected 28 new buildings and increased the school’s endowment from $29 million to $280 million.

To conclude, Williams credited Hampton University for serving as the door of opportunity for his future success.

To the mostly student audience, Williams said, “My advice on this 150th anniversary of Founder’s Day is to stay true to Gen. Armstrong’s vision and spread the benefit of your education to others. Be a teacher, be a mentor, reach back and pull others along. Be a nurturer of hopes and dreams. And remember, the standard remains excellence — you can do anything!”

Williams is one of 14 Hampton University alumni who have attained general or flag officer rank in the armed forces.