Brandon's Observations from the MLK Memorial Dedication
October 16, 2011,
This was the rescheduled dedication from back in August when Hurricane Irene cancelled the original ceremony. My notes on the quotes may not be verbatim, but I got most of the ones that were compelling to me. Hope they do a little of the same for you.
I kept wondering - how has our country changed since the Mid-50’s when Dr. king began his public civil rights work, how have we changed since that day 43 years ago when we lost him. Did we lose our voice? Have we listened, learned and moved forward, or rested too long. I think a lot of the notes from below show that the speakers (and the crowd on hand) still are working in great part due to his inspiration.
Today was a beautiful day – the sky was blue with the temperatures starting in the mid 50s and ending in the mid 60s. I took the Metro to Smithsonian and got to the Mall about 9:30, walking toward the memorial I was anticipating more people, but they kept filing in until 11. A very quiet procession down the sidewalks and paths. Unless you were a VIP, you had to keep walking about ¼ mile past the memorial and then onto the grass.
Saw a T-shirt on the way down “unemployed is the new black” uh ok.
At the gates, everyone received a Cap (white -probably saw them on TV) from Tommy Hilfiger, that other noted civil rights leader (OK he was actually co-chair of the memorial but it was a bit weird)
The crowds were kind of sectored off between fences and they limited the number of people in each area.
9:35 – Rev. Bernyce King- Martin’s daughter (one of the better speeches) – “his memorial was a long time coming, it took an act of Congress, we survived a hurricane, but we are here today...Today represents another milestone, a celebration not just for African Americans, but for all of America. We must remain vigilant, don’t sleep through the revolution”
9:45 – MLK III – (sounded a lot like a campaign speech, lots of references to income disparity, unemployment and concentration of wealth, lack of health care – a number of speakers echoed this theme, so you can bet these will be the messages through November 2012!)
“Justice for the unemployed, justice for the elders afraid of losing savings and health care... We lost our soul when these things happen. We lost my father but we need to fight, dream and strive like him."
10:00 Mary, Mary sang
10:15 Rep. John Lewis “just 48 years ago when he was here in DC, we couldn’t (litany of things). We are a better nation, yet too many people are still left behind."
10:22 – Ambassador Andrew Young – “King always had a complex about his height, he stood about 5’ 7” but here he is today, 20 feet tall looking down upon us. Bankers and Wall Street – “not using their minds, they are using their greedy behinds”
10:27 – Rev. Joseph Lowery – King’s close ally. “While we have come a long way, we have a long way to go. He echoed a lot of King’s compelling lines. Thank god for the past and the present but we look forward to the future."
11:00 – a really touching tribute by a 12 year old girl remembering the 4 girls killed in 1963 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham.
Sharpton (definitely fired up the crowd a great speaker, like King and Jesse Jackson) – “Let us not be confused. This is not a memorial to times past; this is a marker for our fight today. King is not just a leader, but a conduit for justice...Justice is not rolling back voting rights with voter ID laws, justice is not teaching kids in unfunded broken down schools, justice is not concentrating 40% of our wealth in 1% of the people. We are going to retire those that stand in our way...If we can’t rescue our children from our cradle to prison path where 1 in 3 black boys will end up in prison at some time…Our nation is materially rich, but spiritually poor...Dr. King is not coming back – he told us what we need to do, we need to listen and do it. "(Great stuff)
11:25 – a shot of the Obama family (and some of the King family?) show up on the jumbotron, crowd goes wild. Obama’s looking at the inscriptions and memorial. The crowd starts chanting Hope, Hope, Hope.
11:35 President Barack Obama makes his way up the steps, crowd chants 4 more years.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar (Apparently the free Hilfiger hat didn’t look good on Ken, guys in suits should never wear ball caps) talked about how proud he was to authorize this, the 395th National park.
11:45 Aretha steps up says MLK often requested this song (private performances Aretha?) Precious Lord. After snapping at the sound guys like a true Diva (Do we have the track ready yet?!!!) she does a great rendition. Aretha at her best – doing gospel. She hit the high notes and sounded great!
11:54 – President Obama steps up (4 more years chants) “This is a day we celebrate Dr. King’s return to the National Mall. King would be the first to remind us this isn’t a memorial to a man; this is a monument to your collective achievement.
“Many thousands of unnamed and unsung performing small efforts and acts to help us realize our freedoms...Without Dr. King’s glorious words, we may not have had the courage to move forward. Laws may have changed, but hopes and dreams also flourished."
“Progress was not realized by words alone, the smacks of police batons and jail cells were also endured...50 years later, we have a ways to go. Conditions of our poorest neighborhoods look much like they do 50 years ago, underfunded schools, inadequate access to health care (catch a recurring theme here???)"
“Our work is not done, let us draw strength from earlier struggles – change depends on our persistence...Now more than ever we need to heed King’s words. Stand in the shoes of others, fight poverty, poor schools, even if we are not suffering the same as others...Peace without justice is no peace at all"
People started packing up with 10 minutes to go in Obama’s comments – I guess to beat the traffic, or get home and catch the Skins?? I stuck around through Stevie Wonder singing a really uplifting Happy Birthday tune to MLK.
The crowd was being funneled through back to the Independence Avenue side. After checking with US Park rangers twice to make sure they weren’t going to arrest or ticket me, I jumped one of the temporary barriers and walked back down Ohio Avenue, past the FDR and Jefferson back home. Traffic was closed off, so it was a great walk by the Potomac.