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ASU students storm Gettysburg battlefield

April 3, 2018

McCain Institute field trip with a general and an ambassador offers timeless lessons of character-driven leadership

Atop the hill at the end of a ridge, Union Army Col. Joshua Chamberlain and remnants of the 20th Maine Infantry occupied a vital position, Little Round Top, that had to be held at all costs at Gettysburg. Chamberlain didn’t know what was going to come next or whether he and his soldiers were going to survive, but he had to be ready.

That was one of the many examples of leadership given by a general and a diplomat as they led a group of Arizona State University students around the Pennsylvania landscape that was home to of the Civil War’s most important battle.

“As leaders you never know when you’re going to be asked to do something that’s totally unexpected,” said retired Army Lt. Gen. Benjamin C. Freakley, former commanding general, now a senior adviser to both ASU President Michael Crow and the McCain Institute for International Leadership. “Part of leadership is being prepared for what might come next.”

On March 28, Freakley, former Ambassador Michael C. Polt and nearly 20 students from ASU’s Rule of Law and Policy Design Studio programsThe Washington Policy Design Studio is part of the McCain Institute for International Leadership at the Ambassador Barbara Barrett & Justice Sandra Day O’Connor Washington Center at Arizona State University in Washington, D.C. The Global Rule of Law & Governance is a joint effort between ASU Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law and the McCain Institute. jumped on a bus and dove into a rainy but action-packed extended day trip to Gettysburg National Military Park.

This walk-the-hallowed-ground experience took the diplomacy, military action, intelligence and economic factors at play on the battlefield and shaped them into teachable moments on how to survive and thrive in today’s leadership environment.

Setting the scene

The day before heading to historic Gettysburg, Freakley and Polt hosted a two-hour classroom sessionThe field trip exercise was part of a semester-long course for the ASU Policy Design Studio. This semester focuses on how America creates policy. The students form an embassy team and are focused on a particular country. This semester is Afghanistan for undergraduates and Azerbaijan for ASU Law students. in ASU’s Decision Theater to properly set the scene for this pivotal clash. Students learned about Civil War figures, military and diplomatic tactics, intelligence and communication, leadership strategies and the events leading up to Gettysburg.

Freakley also screened key scenes from the 1993 American film epic “Gettysburg,” starring Tom Berenger, Martin Sheen and Jeff Daniels. The scenes helped students envision what took place on those three bloody days in July 1863.

Polt stated that understanding a country’s history and turning points is highly effective when developing and implementing policy.

“In many cases I’ve found overseas that foreigners know more about our history than we do, and that’s a bit embarrassing,” Polt said. “While this is not a history lesson, it’s an important part of your foreign-policy understanding.”

The following morning when students stepped on the bus, it became a mobile learning lab from the moment it pulled away from the curb in front of the Barrett & O’Connor Washington Center, ASU’s new hub in the nation's capital.

Tennis, anyone?

Gettysburg wasn’t just a bloody conflict between the Union and Confederate armies, Freakley explained: It was the manifestation of war as the ultimate instrument of national policy, its success or failure impacted by the way the leaders in the field interpreted and executed the guidance of this key battle.

“Many of these decisions were made in confusion and lacking full information,” Freakley said. “They were made on the ground where they were standing, the weather they had to deal with, and in the capacity of their organization. In other words, just because you can play tennis doesn’t mean you can play tennis with Serena Williams.”

The American Civil War was anything but a tennis match according to Freakley, who first visited Gettysburg at the age of 11. The fighting was brutal, the death tollHistorians believe that approximately 620,000 soldiers — 2 percent of the nation's population at that time — died in the Civil War. They also estimate that casualties amounted to 23,049 for the Union and 28,063 for the Confederates at the Battle of Gettysburg. high and the future of the country desperately hung in the balance.

Freakley and Polt used 13 planned stopsStops were Frederick, Maryland; Gettysburg Visitor Center; Chambersburg Pike; Oak Ridge; Short Tower Oak Hill; Cemetery Hill; North Carolina Memorial; Confederate Avenue Tower; Chamberlain’s Rock; Little Round Top; Virginia Memorial; Pickett’s Charge and the High Water Mark. to not only discuss the players, politics and policy, but the different leadership skills employed by key Gettysburg figures such as generals Robert E. Lee, George G. Meade, Winfield Scott Hancock, Daniel E. Sickles and James Longstreet.

Union Gen. John Reynolds' story particularly resonated with David Okinyi, an international student from Kenya studying economics and global politics at ASU.

“Even though he died, I was inspired by the fact that Reynolds was the front-runner and that translated to leadership,” Okinyi said. “As a leader, it’s not about giving direction but taking charge of the action.”

Applied leadership field training

This day of applied leadership field training also rubbed off on other students, some who had little previous knowledge of the Civil War. Brazilian-born João Lucas Coimbra Sousa, 27, said he retained what’s important.

“What I’m learning here today is that the right call at the right time can change history,” said Sousa, an ASU Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law student and a criminal defense attorney in Brazil. “You have to be prepared for the unexpected and at the same time, you have to understand the unexpected exists.”

Authority or governorship does not start at a certain age or have an expiration date, and it should be used for the benefit of others, said 22-year-old Kelly Graham, an online student majoring in leadership.

“Being a leader is not something you learn or earn a certificate,” Graham said. “Life’s events will shape and mold you. … Being a leader means you’re constantly growing, and it’s a part of your life’s journey.”

Whether they knew it or not, Freakley said his students became leaders the day they enrolled at ASU.

“They reinforce that the mantle of leadership can fall on our shoulders at any time just like the soldiers at Gettysburg,” Freakley said. “It’s our responsibility to prepare them academically and ethically, and prepare them for when our government, nation or family calls on them to lead.”

Video by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Key takeaways from the general

Among some of the leadership tips that Freakley shared with students at Gettysburg:

• Policy is about people: “When you make a decision for an organization, a company or a courtroom, you are affecting people's lives. It may not be as dramatic as death on a battlefield, but policy does have human implications.”

• Trust is a must: “Leadership is about relationships and knowing your people. The essence of leadership is building trust.”

• Information is key: “Good leaders always keep their bosses or superiors informed. I used to keep a 3-by-5 card on my desk asking, ‘Who else needs to know?'”

• A little levity can go a long way: “Humor is a nice trait for a leader to have and helps. It reassures people you haven’t lost your balance and can handle the situation at hand.”

• Don’t let your ego get in the way: “Having a spirit of invincibility can be a dangerous thing, and ego can interfere with policy and leadership.”

• Be good to your peers: “One of the hardest things to grasp for leaders is peer leadership. You don’t really have any authority over them, but convincing, helping and working with your peers is very important.”

• Lead down and roll up your sleeves: “Giving clear instruction to your subordinates. Don’t ever ask anyone to do anything that you can’t do yourself.”

• Stay cool when you rule: “Keep calm. When it gets tense, people are looking to you to lead, so think through and stay calm.”

• Psychology matters: “Leaders have to understand the psychology of those who they lead and what they’ll do when they ask them to do something.”

• Empower your employees: “Not only does a good leader provide vision but resources for his or her employee to be successful. A strong leader does not delegate but empowers you to act. ‘Don’t wait for me — do it!’”

• Teamwork is critical: “None of us will solve tough problems without a network of well-trained employees who believe in the mission and work together to accomplish a result. We not only need to train employees to do their jobs, but the jobs of others in order to move on.”

• Vision can be learned but must be practiced: “It’s like reading. If you don’t read or take on more complicated text and learn, then you don’t improve in your comprehension. It’s like lifting weights — you have to do it in order to build up your strength, your capacity.”

• Good leaders possess strong values: “The most important component of being a leader (is) values. That means being a leader of integrity. Being a leader of responsibility. Being a leader of respect. A character-driven leader has a commitment to do the right thing, in the right way for the right reasons in order to set a good example.”

Top photo: Retired Army Lt. Gen. Benjamin C. Freakley speaks about cannons used and the power required to man them in the U.S. Civil War at Oak Ridge during a visit to the Gettysburg National Military Park on March 28 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The McCain Institute's Policy Design Studio focuses on using the study of the Battle of Gettysburg and how it relates to leadership, policy and understanding of U.S. government. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

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Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'Mountaintop' speech revisited

April 3, 2018

ASU professor parses King's final speech on 50th anniversary of civil rights icon's death

On April 3, 1968, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered what has been called his most profoundly prophetic speech: “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” Just 32 hours later, he was dead — felled by an assassin’s bullet in Memphis, Tennessee.

But had it not been for a last-minute push from a trusted aide and an anticipatory crowd already gathered to hear the civil rights leader speak at a historic Memphis church, the public address that would become King’s last might not have happened.

ASU Now spoke with author and Arizona State University Professor Keith MillerKeith Miller is a professor in the Department of English in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the interim director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts at Arizona State University. Miller is a recognized scholar on the rhetoric and songs of the U.S. civil rights movement and has written books and essays on the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr., Jackie Robinson, Frederick Douglass and Fannie Lou Hamer, among others., who revisits the stormy staging for King’s final speech and shares how a little-known architect may have played a key role in what Miller believes to be a defining but largely overlooked address.

Question: “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” is highly regarded as one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s more memorable orations. How would you rank this speech among his other speeches?

Answer: I personally consider “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” to be King’s greatest speech. His most famous speech, “I Have a Dream,” lasted only 18 minutes while “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” lasted about an hour. Later in his life, many of King’s speeches reflected deeper and more sophisticated thinking on his part, simply because he kept growing and maturing. He gave the speech to support striking African-American garbage workers in Memphis, who were not paid a living wage. So, the “Mountaintop” speech attacked both poverty and racism, which he viewed as intertwined phenomena. “I Have a Dream” doesn’t really do that, or at least not very much.

Keith Miller

Q: It has been documented that King almost passed on delivering his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech. What circumstances and cultural climate might have dissuaded King from speaking to the crowd gathered to see him that night? What prompted him to go forward with it?

A: King wanted to stay in his motel room that night, dispatching his chief lieutenant, Ralph Abernathy, to talk in his place. He sent Abernathy because he was exhausted and because a huge thunderstorm (complete with a tornado not too far from Memphis) arrived that night, making him doubt that many people would appear. But Abernathy arrived to find 3,000 exuberant people at the Mason Temple, so he called King and persuaded him to speak.  

For King’s appearance at the church, I credit the almost totally unknown architect who completed the Mason Temple in 1945. His last name is Taylor, but his full name is not really known. Research suggests Keith Miller is the author of the books “Martin Luther King’s Biblical Epic: His Final, Great Speech” (the only book on King’s last speech) and “Voice of Deliverance: The Language of Martin Luther King Jr. and its Sources.” he was credited as W.H. Taylor or sometimes just H. Taylor. He was apparently African-American and an elder in the church, but no one knows what other buildings he built nor how he possibly learned architecture and became certified as an architect in the segregated South at the time that he worked.  

Without the architect, the only other available indoor venues would have seated around 300 people at most. In that event, King would never have left the room at the Lorraine MotelMartin Luther King Jr. was fatally shot while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel on April 4, 1968 — one day after delivering the "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech. at which he was staying and never have given a speech that night.

Q: Much of the focus on “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” has revolved around the last few minutes of the speech in which King talks about getting to the promised land. What else should we know about the speech that has been largely defined by this and other prophetic references?

A: The last two minutes or so of the speech are famous. The rest of the speech, which actually lasted about an hour, is largely unknown. That’s because TV and radio programs have endlessly recycled the last two minutes and have spurred people to interpret the speech simply through the lens of King’s assassination the next day.

They claim that King was using the speech to predict his assassination when, actually, he often talked both in orations and in private about the likelihood that he would be assassinated. Further, when King finished his last address, the crowd erupted in jubilation. People were cheering wildly. One woman said that after this speech she knew that the garbage workers would win their strike. If members of the audience believed that King was predicting his own demise the next day (or even his own demise during the Memphis strike), they would not have experienced a sense of elevation and joy at the end of the speech.  

During the last two minutes of the address, King alludes to Moses. The only way to understand this allusion is to grasp his two references to the Exodus and to Moses earlier in the speech (once in the beginning and once in the middle). It’s also important to grasp his long interpretation of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. King interprets the garbage workers as slaves to the new Egyptian pharaoh, the mayor of Memphis. He also interprets the garbage workers as the roadside victim in the parable and thereby explains the Memphis strike as part of an ongoing biblical drama. He encourages people to locate their own places in the biblical drama that spirals through history.

Q: What do we know about King’s final hours after he delivered this speech?

King was happy the next day. When his lieutenant Andrew Young returned from court to the motel room, he told King that the judge had lifted an injunction against a future protest march in Memphis. King was so pleased to hear this report that he immediately initiated a pillow fight with Young and they laughed like children.

He also teased a local minister, Billy Kyles, about their need for a good dinner that night. Speaking to another lieutenant, Bernard Lafayette, he said, “Bernard, we need to institutionalize nonviolence.” This comment revealed his awareness of the limitations of ad hoc nonviolent campaigns that jumped from one city and town to another on the spur of the moment, which is what largely happened during the civil rights movement.

Bernard Lafayette, who is still alive, has tried to do that, leading many workshops on nonviolence in the U.S. and overseas. But I think King was signaling to Lafayette that we actually need giant, well-funded centers to research and implement nonviolence and to determine which nonviolent tactic is appropriate in which circumstance. I think such a development would have meant much more to King than being memorialized in a national holiday.

Top photo: The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C., with the statement "Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope." Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Suzanne Wilson

Sr. Media Relations Officer , Media Relations & Strategic Communications