Friday, February 03, 2006

Memory: August 22, 2003

It was a hot Friday, and the last day of my summer internship. I left the office at noon, saying goodbye to my boss, and walked from Dupont Circle up to Georgetown to do some errands on campus. I stopped in at my graduate program office to refill my water bottle and check my email. I mentioned to the guy at the computer next to me that I was planning on going to the ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial for the unveiling of the engraving that marked where Martin Luther King, Jr., had stood when he gave his I Have A Dream speech at the March on Washington, and he said he would come with me. There was to be a larger event on the Mall over the weekend, marking the 40th anniversary of the march.

We walked across the Key Bridge to the Rosslyn metro station. There was something of a breeze as we crossed the Potomac, and I felt a little cooler than I had for most of the day. We went one stop to Foggy Bottom and then walked down 23rd to the Mall.

There were chairs set up at the Memorial, but not very many people were around. Josh and I tried to figure if we were allowed to sit anywhere we wanted. It seemed strange that we were allowed to sit so close. We had both finished the water we had brought with us, and Josh went to buy more. I sat in my folding chair, feeling sweat trickle down the backs of my legs, while I watched a little boy and his dad as they studied the cardboard copy of the marker. The man was white, but the little boy had darker skin. He was full of energy, and seemed not to notice the heat.

I remembered a story told by a professor I had worked for at Santa Cruz. I was a teaching assistant in his course on the Civil Rights movement, and he told us about a friend of his who had been at the March on Washington. It had been horribly hot that day and his friend had left early—before King spoke. I had wondered at the time I heard the story how anyone could have left such an important event. Now, sitting in the sun on an August afternoon in Washington, I completely understood. Finally Josh came back with two bottles of water for each of us, and I held one against my forehead for a minute. I wanted to lift my hair off the back of my neck, but I was embarrassed to raise my arms and show the stains that I was sure were there.

By the time the ceremony started, I had already finished one of the bottles. There were speeches, most of which I don’t remember. I know John Lewis spoke, and Eleanor Holmes Norton.

Then they played part of the speech. I sat on at the Lincoln Memorial, looking up at icons of the Civil Rights movement, listening to Martin Luther King’s words booming over the loudspeaker. I cried. I wasn’t the only one.

When the ceremony ended, everyone climbed the steps to see the plaque. I am glad I was with Josh. He was more assertive than I was. I started to hang back a bit, but he said “Come on,” and I followed.

We walked up to the plaque and I stared down at it for minute, somehow able to tune out the jostling around me.





AUGUST 28, 1963

And I looked down over the Mall, trying to imagine being there when it was as crowded as I had seen it in black-and-white film footage we’d watched in class at Santa Cruz.

Suddenly, I was shaking hands with John Lewis and listening to Josh speak to him, although I don’t remember what he said. I turned and there was Coretta Scott King. She saw me looking at her, smiled at me, and reached out to shake my hand. A moment later, a photographer—from the AP or the Post, I think, was asking people to move around a bit. He took some pictures of the VIPs, and then one of the little boy I had been watching earlier. I leaned around people, trying to take some snapshots of my own.

Eleanor Holmes Norton, ???, Martin Luther King III, Coretta Scott King, 8/22/03

Little boy at the Lincoln Memorial


Mary Tsao said...

Great memory. She was a beautiful woman; that much is clear from both your memory of how she reached out to shake your hand as well as your picture of her.

Jennifer said...

definitely a nice entry... thanks...

Rafiq said...

Hi Elizabeth,

I was really moved by your entry as well--you describe such a beautiful and amazing moment, one of those that stays and lingers in one's heart for years and years to come.

I was particularly moved by your picture of the little boy sitting in front of the "I Have a Dream" memorial ... in fact I was so inspired that I would like to get your permission to use the image as part of a logo for a new charter school I am developing here in Brooklyn, New York to serve impoverished inner city youth. I am at the beginning of the endeavor and thus do not have a lot of money to spend on purchasing a license from you to use this image, but I am hoping we might be able to work something out. If you are interested please drop me a note at RAFIQKALAMIDDIN@GMAIL.COM and I'll be happy to send you a brief description of our charter school project.

Thanks again for taking the time to share such a wonderful memory (and photo) with the world.