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Claiborne Douglass Haughton Jr. shares his history during a Black History Month presentation Wednesday at Kelly Barracks in Stuttgart, Germany.

Claiborne Douglass Haughton Jr. shares his history during a Black History Month presentation Wednesday at Kelly Barracks in Stuttgart, Germany. (Samuel Bendet / Courtesy of U.S. Africa Command)

STUTTGART, Germany — The odds weren’t in Claiborne Douglass Haughton Jr.’s favor.

Raised in a rural part of segregated Louisiana, Haughton had more than racial discrimination to overcome as a youngster. Born with cerebral palsy, blind in one eye, wearing leg braces and calling an orphanage home for 12 years, there was plenty else to battle.

"Because I was blind in one eye and couldn’t see out the other, I wore Coke-bottle glasses that were so thick that when I looked at a map I could see people. ..." Haughton joked as he recalled his awkward appearance for an audience at Stuttgart’s Kelley Barracks Theater.

Despite those challenges, during a 35-year career with the Defense Department, Haughton climbed to a civilian rating equivalent to a military general. He credited childhood mentors who early on showed him the value of education and set him on the right path.

"We must never forget where we came from" and give something back, Haughton explained during Wednesday’s Black History Month event. "You must reach back and pull up those E-1s, 2s, and 3s."

The event, hosted by U.S. Africa Command and U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart, also showcased gospel numbers and re-enactments of historic civil rights speeches.

Haughton, a motivational speaker who retired from the DOD in 2002 as acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for equal opportunity, said despite all the progress, it’s still important to remember the struggles.

And those struggles aren’t over, he added.

"African-Americans have always been apart, all the time having to deal with a heritage rooted deeply in slavery" he said. "How painful that history has been. But it is ours."

From slave ships through the long fight for equal rights up to the recent election of the country’s first African-American president, Haughton chronicled the journey.

"Yes, today our illustrious and distinguished president, Barack Obama, is the 44th president of the United States of America. He and his wonderful family live in a house that was built in part by slaves," he said. "He is commander in chief of a military that 60 years ago was a bastion of segregation and discrimination."

Compare that to today, when, "despite all of its imperfection, the United States military is the most integrated institution in America," he said.

Haughton cited the cultural contributions of African-Americans, including gospel, jazz and blues. But he also recounted data showing the ranks of the unemployed and imprisoned are disproportionately black, and elected officeholders white.

And "we still have work to do in the military," he said. "Because although African-Americans are about 17 percent of our military, they are only about 5 percent of general and flag officers," he said.

It’s not a time to be content, Haughton said.

"I need to warn you that the election of President Obama is not a fulfillment of Dr. King’s dream," he said. "It’s a down payment."

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John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.
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