By Tonesha Townsel, Special to the AFRO
The wind whistled loudly on a brisk Monday morning, as people of the Washington area and across the nation flocked to the Martin Luther King Monument to pay their respects to the late revolutionary.
Harry Lewis, a Washington native who lived through King’s time, stood alone, gazing up at the monument as he thought about King’s legacy and his most momentous visit to the District. “I was born and raised here in the District and it wasn’t too far from here where they had the resurrection seed,” said Lewis, 57, referring to the famous 1964 March on Washington, where King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. “Quite naturally, he was incidental with the march; that was enormous for the District of Columbia at that time.
Martin Luther King Monument in Washington, D.C. (Robyn Hutson, Howard University News Service)
“They were scared, the police on standby. They had the National Guard, groups along the river at Fort Meyer. He had 250,000 black people. They knew something was going to happen, but Dr. King had them under control. Nothing happened, not a thing. The speech was across the street at the Lincoln Memorial.”
The sculpture, created in 2011, serves as a reminder of the role King played in the advancement of African Americans and the nation. Kendrick Peters, a student at Howard University, roamed the memorial site with his grandmother. “For me, his work has impacted me by inspiring me to consider social justice beyond mentoring and pursuing higher education,” Peters said. “I’ve learned to be intentional about each of my social justice activities. Like when I write a paper, I am very explicit about having solutions and not just speaking the rhetoric.”
“He was the one person everyone listened to. They may not have believed in his mission of non-violence, but they did listen to him. We don’t have that voice anymore, that voice to listen to and respect as they had then,” Peters continued.
As the day progressed, the crowd grew larger. People of all ages and ethnicities gathered to show their respects.
A contingent from Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, King’s fraternity, arrived from Morehouse College, King’s alma mater, after a 10-hour-plus bus ride from Atlanta to pay homage. They gathered around the memorial, linked together and sang Morehouse’s school song. Upon their departure, men of the fraternity made their calls of brotherhood and, as did so many others, took photographs at the site.
Fleming Benjamin Berning, an employee at a state mental health hospital in Ohio, was among the photographers taking pictures. “When I look at this, based on what has been communicated to me and based off what I’ve seen, I see that there are some things in which we’ve made some tremendous strides and there are some things that have not changed,” Berning said. “So the question becomes, now as we become educated, how do we respond to it?”
He said, “Some people recognize that there’s still room for peaceful protest, however, sometimes you wonder if that is enough. We’ve reached the highest pinnacle – the president of the United States – and still there are things going on.”
With the sunlight reflecting off the Tidal Basin pond behind him, the elderly Lewis held his spot, leaning on the rail in the far corner, still gazing at the monument. His thoughts were what many across America might have said.
“It’s important to be here today, because this shows me where I came from, with his help,” he said. “Without that, ain’t no telling where I’d be today. He was very instrumental in getting me where I am now.”