Archive for the ‘Martin Luther King Jr’ Category

August 28, 2013

MLK_1963_MoWNot only is today the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, but it is also my son’s first birthday. I’m not sure how many expectant mother’s are focused on what day their baby is born, but I was. I was due on August 25th and from the onset was hoping my little one would arrive on August 28th. The little fellow cooperated (and he has been cooperating ever since, except at bed time). I went into labor in the wee hours of August 28th and he arrived late that afternoon. Not only was my little one born on the historic anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr. delivering his “I Have a Dream” speech, but I avoided having to share my baby’s birthday with the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina which was the next day, August 29th.

That said, our day will be spent watching live coverage of the commemoration of the March on Washington and smashing cake.

For those interested in reading more about the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial and dedication, see the posts from August 2011 (August 28 and August 31) and October 2011.

Living Legends: Black History Month

The program read “Living Legends of the Civil Rights Movement,” but it just as easily could have been called “Living History.” So many people came out to hear Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton moderate a discussion with civil rights leaders Rep. John Lewis and Julian Bond, former chairman of the NAACP, that there was a line down the block outside Busboys & Poets where the event was held on Monday night, February 27, in honor of black history month.

All three panelists were activists with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Council (SNCC) in the 1960s. They talked about a time when “the south was terrorist territory.” They shared some of the atrocities, including a man who had a kidney problem and stopped at the only bathroom for miles to relieve himself. He got no relief. Instead, he was shot in the back and killed. It was a white only bathroom.

Norton, Lewis, and Bond talked about Bloody Sunday in Selma, the passage of the Voting Rights Act, the March on Washington, and, of course, Martin Luther King, Jr. For two plus hours, the crowded room was spellbound as history came alive. In order to accommodate as many people as possible, bleachers and chairs were added to the stage behind the speakers. What was encouraging was that so many of those faces were young. And in the audience itself was an older crowd which included a former Time magazine journalist who covered civil rights in the 1960s, former SNCC members, and even a Freedom Rider, Joan Trumpauer Mulholland.

The evening ended with a Q&A and one of the questions was about Obama. Rep Lewis said that “the election of Obama was not the dream; just a down payment.”


At Last: Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Dedication

President Obama Speaking at the MLK, Jr. Memorial Dedication

Today the sun shined brightly as thousands of people headed to West Potomac Park to see the official dedication of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. Getting there is not easy and walking, especially today, was the best option. As we were a stone’s throw away from the memorial (we could see it), our efforts to get there were compounded by the sudden emergence of a road closure. Just like that pedestrians were halted. Throngs of people, of all ages, were turned around and rerouted through the World War II Memorial, passed the reconstruction of the reflecting pool, and by the Korean War Memorial.

Making our way to the MLK dedication past the WWII Memorial (on the right)

Michelle and Amy sporting our new hats

Our timing turned out to be perfect. We donned the white MLK Memorial baseball caps all attendees received, courtesy of Tommy Hilfiger, and then found the perfect spot to watch the ceremony. There was a baseball field shielded by barricades and carton boxes. We stood on the edge of this open space, using the boxes as a ledge, for what became our front row seats, minus the chairs, and an unobstructed view. The stage was in the distance, but the jumbo screens were not.

We arrived just as MLK’s daughter, Rev. Bernice King was finishing her remarks. We heard Martin Luther King, III, pay tribute to his father with his wife, Andrea, and daughter, Yolanda by his side.

A host of dignitaries followed including Reverend Jesse Jackson, Representative John Lewis, Ambassador Andrew Young, Reverend Joseph Lowry, Poet Nikki Giovanni, Reverend Al Sharpton, former newsanchor Dan Rather, entertainer Diahann Carroll, actress Cicely Tyson, 12-year-old actress Amandla Stenberg (she paid tribute to the four girls who perished in the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing in Birmingham in 1963), advocate Marian Wright Edelman, and MLK Memorial executives and corporate sponsors including General Motors (manufacturer of the presidential limo) and Tommy Hilfiger.

Rep. John Lewis

The crowd favorite was Al Sharpton, but my favorite was John Lewis. He reiterated King’s message of non-violence and said that King must be looked upon as one of the founding fathers of the New America, “King liberated a nation. … He finished what the Civil War could not.” Lewis, like many of the others, recalled King’s “I Have A Dream,” speech, but unlike the others Lewis is the only speaker from the March on Washington still alive. He was keeping the dream alive.

The First Family Arrives at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

Also keeping the dream alive was President Barack Obama. This Obama-friendly crowd erupted with shear joy when images of the first family arriving at the memorial were broadcast on the jumbotron. While the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. was main attraction, the President was right up there. And he seized the opportunity to tie the struggles of the civil rights movement to the struggles of today:

“If he [King] were alive today, I believe he would remind us that the unemployed worker can rightly challenge the excesses of Wall Street without demonizing all who work there; that the businessman can enter tough negotiations with his company’s union without vilifying the right to collectively bargain.  He would want us to know we can argue fiercely about the proper size and role of government without questioning each other’s love for this country — (applause) — with the knowledge that in this democracy, government is no distant object but is rather an expression of our common commitments to one another.  He would call on us to assume the best in each other rather than the worst, and challenge one another in ways that ultimately heal rather than wound.”

While Obama, and many of the earlier speakers, alluded to work not done, they also remembered the struggles of years past. What resonated most for me was the recognition that change is not easy or quick and it’s about more than passing laws, but enforcing them, as evident by almost a decade of time between the unanimous Brown v. Board of Education decision and the integration of the University of Alabama, the last public institution of higher learning to admit African-American students under pressure from the Kennedy Administration [see

President Obama

“Our work is not done,” said Obama.  “And so on this day, in which we celebrate a man and a movement that did so much for this country, let us draw strength from those earlier struggles.  First and foremost, let us remember that change has never been quick.  Change has never been simple, or without controversy.  Change depends on persistence.  Change requires determination.  It took a full decade before the moral guidance of Brown v. Board of Education was translated into the enforcement measures of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, but those 10 long years did not lead Dr. King to give up.  He kept on pushing, he kept on speaking, he kept on marching until change finally came. “

These words are what stood out most to me and that’s because I’m deeply entrenched in writing the biography of Nicholas Katzenbach who was one of the key architects of that change on the federal side.

With much to ponder, including the fact that the first African-American president dedicated the first monument on the mall to a non-elected, and, non-caucasian, man  between memorials to President Lincoln and President Jefferson, it was time to head home. As we did, we heard Stevie Wonder singing  “Happy Birthday.”

Stevie Wonder

Aretha Franklin after the Dedication Ceremony

We were moving with the masses until we hit the memorial itself, glimpsed the presidential motorcade leave, and backtracked to an opening where the park service was letting people through. Again timing was on our side. Being among the first through the fence we ended up seeing some of the day’s VIPs leaving the dedication including Aretha Franklin who performed at the dedication, and, Jesse Jackson who was among the speakers.

Jesse Jackson Greets the Crowd

To read about my first time seeing the MLK, Jr.  Memorial click here:

And, to read more about the memorial itself click here:

Jesse Jackson leaving the MLK, Jr. Dedication

Take Three

Turns out third time is the charm. For weeks I’ve been looking forward to the dedication of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. Last night I finally made it there. It was worth the wait.

My first attempt was last Thursday, August 25.  The memorial opened earlier that week for what was originally billed as “DC Day,” but all were welcome. I thought because I was local I would be one step ahead, but I was wrong. I knew where to park, but so did everyone else. Ohio Drive was packed. Even though it was late, there were no spots. By the time I finally found parking I was a mile away. The sun had long set and, it was dark. Very dark. Lamp posts lined Ohio Drive, but they were dark too.

I followed the shadows in front of me towards Independence Avenue. But before we got there we hit a path, more like a road. It led to a barricade. It was not an entrance. I pulled out my phone for some light and more information. And that’s when I learned the dedication had just been cancelled.

Now I was really on a mission. I continued down Ohio Drive, past more barricades, and rows of port-a-potties. I could see two big video screens and hundreds of chairs. I snapped photos along the way of what was to be.

I arrived at the entrance and saw people streaming out. But unfortunately I could not go in.  This time I was at the right place, but wrong time. The memorial closed at 10 p.m. and it was now a few minutes past the hour. My hopes of seeing the memorial before the dedication, and even the dedication, were gone.

Sunday came, Irene left, and the Memorial opened. Plans to go that afternoon, and then that evening, evaporated. But not for hundreds of others who made it there.

Maybe that’s why I appreciated it even more on it’s third official day and my third attempt. Park Ranger, Don Stanko, provided a silver lining, not only with his vast knowledge of the MLK, Jr. Memorial, but other local DC monuments. Who knew there was a monument to the Titanic in DC? But, I digress.

What Stanko said was that most people who came for the dedication would not have been able to see the monument, but on Sunday all had access just as it should be. For me the silver lining was meeting 96-year-old, Willie Flood. He’s lived in DC for 61 years and heard Dr. King speak on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1957 and again during the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. When asked what he thought of the memorial he simply said, “It’s beautiful.” I agree. It is every bit as spectacular as they say, from the panoramic views of the Jefferson Memorial to the giant life-like sculpture of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his poetic words etched around him, it is a site to behold.

I Have A Dream

Today I was planning to be among the throngs of people flocking to the tidal basin in Washington, DC to witness the dedication of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. I had my standing room tickets in the orange section printed and ready to go. Until Thursday that is, when the wrath of Hurricane Irene put a damper on the event plans. But the storm did not derail the plans of thousands of visitors who had a chance to experience the memorial today sans ceremony.

One dream that Martin Luther King, Jr. probably never envisioned was that exactly 48 years after giving his “I Have A Dream” speech, he would have his own memorial, with his own words etched in the walls around him, standing tall – 30 feet tall – between Presidents Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. Although the dedication was cancelled, the rain and winds subsided and the sun shined brightly on the latest addition to the National Mall changing the landscape of the nation’s capitol just as Martin Luther King, Jr. changed the landscape of our society.

On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln took the first step in changing that landscape when he issued the Emancipation Proclamation.  A century later, Martin Luther King, Jr. stood before Abraham Lincoln on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and said these ever-lasting words:

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

And while that seems like a fitting end for this post, it should also be said that there were many individuals, known and unknown, who championed the cause of civil rights and some who gave the ultimate sacrifice for what President Kennedy called “a moral crisis.”

On the local level, Millicent Fenwick served on the New Jersey Committee of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and fought against racial discrimination in housing, education, and employment. And on the federal level Attorney General Robert Kennedy and the rest of the Kennedy Justice Department including Nicholas Katzenbach, Burke Marshall, John Doar, and John Douglas worked tirelessly on the cause of civil rights. It was John Douglas that Kennedy tapped to work closely with the planners of the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom” and to give them the full support and assistance of the federal government to insure that the rally was achieved peacefully. It was. And it was on that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., captivated the country with his dream.

MLK Memorial Dedication: Dream Postponed

The barricades were in place, the video screens set up, and the porta pottys lined Independence and Ohio Avenues in preparation for the mass of people expected at the dedication of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on Sunday. But after more than two decades in the making and a $100+ million raised, that dream was delayed tonight.

The memorial has already survived one natural disaster, the east coast earthquake (the Washington Monument, not far away, didn’t fare as well).  But now Hurricane Irene is heading to the nation’s capital and the city is bracing for the worst.

Despite years of planning, tens of thousands of people in town for the historic occasion, and President Obama among the speakers, the dedication of the memorial has been postponed as a precautionary safety measure in anticipation of the wrath mother nature may bring.

After the long struggle for civil rights, it’s ironic that the dedication itself is delayed.  Right now, planners are hoping to reschedule the official dedication for September or October, but fortunately the public won’t have to wait that long to see the 30-foot sculpture of the civil rights leader surrounded by 14 of his quotes. The memorial opened to the public on Monday and closed tonight at 10 p.m. until the official unveiling on Sunday. Now that those plans are derailed, the memorial may open to the public again before Sunday. As of now, it looks like it will be Saturday. We shall see.