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Posted: Wednesday, February 29, 2012 12:00 pm

By Colleen Flaherty

Fort Hood Herald

Michael Williams, Railroad Commission of Texas' first black chairman and current congressional candidate, visited the U.S. Army Operational Test Command Thursday to address soldiers and civilians in honor of Black History Month.

The Midland native, who was the first African-American in state history to hold a statewide elected post, said the risks taken by black Americans to achieve equal rights were akin to those taken by Moses and his followers in the Bible.

"How much courage that would have taken, to (step in), with water raging all around," he said, referring to Moses' parting of the Red Sea. "And that's what black history is, folks."

The Railroad Commission of Texas is the state's oldest regulatory agency that regulates the oil and gas industry. In 1998, Williams was appointed to an open seat by then-Governor George W. Bush. He was elected to complete the unexpired term in November 2000. In November 2002 and 2008, he was reelected to full six-year terms. Williams resigned in April 2011 and launched his candidacy for the 25th District.

In addition to individual acts of bravery, Williams said the military has helped civilian society to become more integrated.

"The Army is a place where people are tested and progress based on merit," he said, adding he was honored to speak at one of the command's regular cultural observances.

Killeen Mayor Timothy Hancock, a retired command sergeant major who attended the event along with other public figures, including state representative Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, agreed.

"Once the Army integrated, it made it easier for whole states to do it," he said. "And the Army continues to lead in integration," including that of women.

Col. Laura Richardson, commander of the unit, which tests new defense-related equipment on behalf of the Army, presented Williams with a coin following his speech.

"It's very, very important we do this," she said. "It's part of our education, our training, our past and our history. You really have to know where you came from to get the full scope of things now."

In addition to the influence of his father, Johnny Williams, a high school football coach, and the dedicated men in his family, Williams said Texas helped shape his identity.

"I cannot imagine a better place to have been born and raised," he said, adding that he tried to live out the state's ideals of individual liberty, personal responsibility and high achievement. "The very (state) motto says 'The sky's the limit.'"

Contact Colleen Flaherty at colleenf@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7559. Follow her on Twitter at KDHFortHood.

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