The most recent addition to the National Mall was the monument of a globally revered leader. Over fifty thousand people gathered to witness the platform of distinguished guests that paid homage to Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The celebration and dedication was a big to do that called for special creation of special choirs, careful selection of speakers and drew a massive multicultural and multilingual crowd. Black, white, young, old, well and disabled, even the homeless came to honor the message of the slain civil rights leader.
As the sea of people embarked upon the celebration two elderly, emotional women, Jo and Mary Gresham of Baltimore Maryland, sat on a nearby park bench to take in the sights and sound of victory. A silent victory, their silent victory. Sisters, Jo (72) and Mary (78) were participants in the civil rights movement, Mary deliberately and determinedly and Jo inadvertently because her older sister made her. They fought for years under King’s leadership and after his death for rights that many take for granted today.
While the choir sang in the near distance, Mary sits serious, in look and posture. She explained, “King was a foundation in our liberation.” She spoke to the disparages they endured during that period and insisted that, “The movement never got off the ground until he got involved.” She continued, “The civil rights movement was a great breakthrough.” “Had it not been for the movement, we would not have been able to enjoy the freedoms of today.”
They said they were excited to be present at the celebration and that they had organized a bus trip to Washington DC every year to fight for the King holiday, but were glad that his Fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, took the torch to fight for the monument.Photo Courtesy of Johnny Riviera
Mary marveled at the idea that, “the Monument will live forever.” She then, immediately scoured at the thought of it having little impact on the generations to come. “Hopefully children generations from now will have some inkling of what a great man Dr. King was.” “He’s gone from society for the cause of his people.” She says the fight for civil rights is ongoing because,” Insidious racism is engrained in people. Nothing can take it away.”
Jo was mostly silent, because reflections were from a more emotional place where she was terrified by the violence and attacks as they marched, protested and met at town halls to acquire change. She peered over her glasses and squinted her eyes when she spoke about the incidents. “They would flatten our tires and bust out our windows.” “This was as late as the 80’s” she added. “They tried to run my daughter over once.”
As the masses were glamoured by the choirs that sang in King’s honor, his family, friends, and dignitaries, famous entertainers, even the first black President, these women sat in pride and in confusion, unclear about what the future hold. They were proud to realize all that had been and confused the amount that has yet to be accomplished by his dream.