President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared December 7, 1941, the day Pearl Harbor was bombed, a “date which will live in infamy.” For people of that generation- my parents were teenagers- that date sticks like glue in their minds.
Sadly, many other infamous days have followed, creating indelible memories, changing lives. Depending on our age, we remember where we were and what we were doing when we hear news that alters world history.
Sunday, August 28th, the nation will dedicate the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial, which opened to the public this past week. It’s the first monument honoring an African American on the Mall and is surrounded by memorials to presidents: Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and FDR.
The dedication occurs on the 48th anniversary of King’s famous “March on Washington” that brought about 250,000 people to the nation’s capitol for a non-violent protest demanding equal rights and access to jobs.
Five years later, April 4th, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, one day after he addressed the striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee.
It’s a day I remember. I was 11; we had just returned from a Chinese restaurant in New Haven, CT, after celebrating my parents’ 14th anniversary. We had turned on the television and heard the announcement. I know I didn’t understand the magnitude of the man. I remember that I’d only seen my parents that distraught once before, when my two-month old sister died in her crib.
Years later, as a teacher, I designated the school days near the January holiday honoring King to honor the man, his achievements, and his dream. I created assignments for my middle school students that celebrated King as a writer, hoping to show students the power of words.
“A Letter from a Birmingham Jail” astounded students: he wrote in long hand? In jail? I selected a passage to demonstrate how repetition can electrify writing.
I wrote a readers theater script based on King’s “I’ve been to the Mountaintop,” creating a chorus with King’s rhetoric. These activities helped students internalize the spirit of an icon they’d studied and empowered their own writing.
Quotations from King’s speeches and writings are inscribed on a crescent-shaped 450-long granite wall that encircles the monument. The design was inspired by a line from King’s “I have a Dream” speech: “ With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.”
Celebrities will be there Sunday: Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Jamie Foxx, and Berry Gordy, and President Obama, who will speak. Thousands, including me, will watch it on television.
I hope to visit soon.
(Educators email me if you’d like my MLK lesson plans.)
(See https://cyclingrandma.wordpress.com/2011/05/15/get-on-the-bus, my post about the Freedom Riders. )
Note: Hurricane Irene has forced the dedication to be postponed.