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From Martin Luther King to Obama on the Washington Mall 2009

I Have Always Loved the Washington Mall by Bonnie Bracey

It has beautiful buildings, you can picnic on it, you can run and exercise or just hang out on it. The fireworks are lovely, and the trees and gardens remarkable. It's like a street park and a gathering place. It belongs to the citizens. We wear it out.. the grass is tattered at the end of a season. There are mini parks and herb gardens and a sculpture garden.

When I bought my house, I purchased it blocks from the mall, so I could access the Mall anytime. As a teacher, there were wonderful courses to take in the various museums. I went to India on a Fulbright, based on a gathering at the Aditi Festival. The mall has magic for me. Unlike the parks of Virginia where I was not allowed as a child, this was a free place.

No one escorted me to the place for niggers.

I went to a mission school that the Catholics of Ireland paid for. I thought I could do anything because they allowed me to learn and learn and learn, but that was the only place that was like that for me. There were dark Catholics of all kind Sicilians, American Indians, Chinese, Blacks, Hispanics. That was the first diversity I ever knew. They talked about change, but that was ages ago. Long ago. History.


When I was a small child, we were allowed to ride the bus to go to the museums and the mall on Sunday from Alexandria , Va where I lived then. There were wonderful things we learned in the museums, which used to be open early, and closed late that could not be learned in school. Even with a few pennies, one could amble the mall, paying tribute to James Sm ithson , wondering what it was like when buffalo were allowed to be on the mall. I would go and peer at his tomb every once in a while. Now I have a book on his life. Since science and technology are my thing, he is one of my heroes. James Smithson. Now, there will be a monument on the mall for Martin Luther King. I am excited about that.
Can you imagine that the museums used to be open at night so that tourists could access them? Maybe that will happen again in our lifetime.
The mall was a bequest from a British citizen James Louis Macie Smithson, b. c.1765, d. June 27, 1829, was an English chemist and mineralogist who left a substantial sum in his will to found the institution.


When Martin Luther King came to the mall it was serious business. There were fears and concerns about what would happen. Would it be peaceful? The newspapers thought there would be a riot. Tent city. Busses came from everywhere . People from Mississippi and Missouri and everywhere else came to live in tent city on the mall. Some people bought guns thinking this would be a violent riot.
We, in my Virginia neighborhood fried up a thousand chickens, made pound cakes, and pies and greens and potato salad to help feed those who slept out in tent city. We also hosted people since hotels were too expensive, in our homes. There were people of every kind there. That amazed me. I had seen my father and other strong black men go register to vote. They even beat a pregnant woman who went to vote, to make them go away. We saw these things, but we did not know that others cared.
I didn't know that other people really cared about segregation and "separate but not equal" It was like a miracle when it happened. I used to only be able to eat out at Jewish Delis and Chinese dining places. They cared. For a long while I was a color. Black. Now I can be just a person. A real person.
Discrimination is a hellhound that gnaws at Negroes in every waking moment of their lives to remind them that the lie of their inferiority is accepted as truth in the society dominating them. Marin Luther King, Jr.
My mother told us, don't go to the mall. Well, I went. Television cameras told on me ,and my sisters. There we were on the national news listening to Martin speak. That was when the mall was also in black and white and living color. Mom did not fuss after all. I think she eventually smiled. We rallied for a dream.

Virginia , the Mother of the Confederacy

I thought that dream would never come true in my lifetime. I could talk with you about Brown vs the Board of Education and how schools were closed down in Virginia ... and Martin's four children.. well for awhile it looked like the impossible dream. People told us not to talk about it at a conference once. They said Martin's dream did not fit America today.
I work in Virginia with a woman who is a citizen who immigrated from India. I had to explain to her why the people had so little knowledge. They were not allowed to go to school for a decade. My friend is working to make a difference in Southside Virginia, in education .STEM, Education and basic literacy.
Being a Negro in America means trying to smile when you want to cry. It means trying to hold on to physical life amid psychological death. It means the pain of watching your children grow up with clouds of inferiority in their mental skies. It means having your legs cut off, and then being condemned for being a cripple. It means seeing your mother and father spiritually murdered by the slings and arrows of daily exploitation, and then being hated for being an orphan.

Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, 1967.

The world changed it was not just black and white anymore. Change came in the waves of people who immigrated to this country. Vietnamese, Hispanics, and others. Change came in many ways. Here's what I think made the change. But we think of Iraq.
Dark old men of color, told us stories. Of walking from California to Denver. Of being made to sleep underground. Of soiled doves, young Chinese girls brought to America for immoral purposes. I am not sure that I believed them.
A man told me once that black people lived in Egypt. I didn't believe him either, but I didn't say anything . Now I have been to Egypt, upper and lower We have a lot of change to make in how we teach the history of the world. But then, I thought the people were lying.
The Vietnamese janitor told me stories of Vietnam. He worked three jobs to help his family . He was always grateful to be here in America. The stories he told me , sometimes made me cry. Of soldiers jabbing bayonets into rice bags to make sure that babies were not being transported to safety.
During Black History month they showed me pictures of Africans in the jungle. I know better now. I have been to Africa. At one time in the world people went to the libraries at Alexandria to learn. That is missing in our books as well.
A Hispanic child didn't know her time tables. I called the mother. She let me know that she had never been to school. So, families and mothers and i started doing outreach. I began to understand that it was not just a problem of the Negro. My principal had us to model bedtime reading.( you should have seen me dressed up like Clifford the Big Red Dog. We took children and families to the mall. Many of them had never , ever been in Washington. They loved the Saturday trips to the mall from the busses at school. We picnicked on the mall. We taught those mothers various subjects as we taught the children. It made us feel good. It made them feel empowered to help their children. The "Seeds of Change " Exhibit taught them a history of South America and of change that they did not know. When the two old worlds met.. change happened.
No one told me about China. I went. I read , I studied. We have a lot to learn about previous history. My mother belonged to the Pearl Buck Foundation. I knew more about China than most teachers as a child. We have much to learn about the world.

A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, 1967.

9/11 Was Used to Plant Constant Fear and Concern

The means by which we live have outdistanced the ends for which we live. Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men. - Martin Luther King, Jr
I have seen Martin Luther King. He changed my life before his death. Perhaps I will get to see Obama. But, even if I don't , I can see the change now. It is unbelievable to me.

Obama and Openess on the Mall Again

For those of us in Washington, the very new openness of the city is a wonderful thing. In the last administration, groups that came to protest, rally, state their cause have been put through the eye of a needle, smeared in the press, and ignored by this administration. Some were arrested. Coming to Washington was ineffective and ruled out as a way to protest, celebrate, share or gain national attention.
Past gatherings Against South African Apartheid, Welfare Rights, whatever seemed to be going the way of the dinosaur. People said, " What's wrong with Americans, why don't they protest?" All around the world people wondered, rallied and did the protests themselves. My Greek friends painted their hands red in protest again the war in Iraq.

No real protest was allowed here.

Protestors were controlled, Amtrak trains mysteriously did not get here in time to let the passengers participate , busses would be rolled in front of the protesters and they would be located in some rare and unusual place, where few could locate or get to. It was not a police state. It was a police state. A police spokesperson for the Park Service was fired for breaking the ranks and talking about this very problem.

We were made to look UnAmerican because we did not agree with the White House. Say what?

The press would ignore a thousand people and go to the one person the adminstration used to push their cause.Whomever the people were who gave the scripts to the press , even the children were portrayed as rude Americans. It was depressing. It was terrible.

The President was usually at Camp David.

He did attend the rally for the missing ... invited that group to the White House and spoke. But most of the time the White House was a closed country club. I will say no more.

Any kind of protest was not allowed.

Not allowed.

On the night of Obama's victory the first change came. People who did not know each other spilled out onto the streets of the city in various places to rejoice. They sang a song, NA NA NA NA.. NA NA NA NA, NA NA NA NA.. Good bye. ( to Bush) They had candles.. it was a big chorus.. unbelievable.

In Lafayette Park, where no protest was usually allowed there were so many people chanting and singing in happiness, the police just let it happen. A man said to me , I am Polish, I love Obama. People who did not know each other hugged and danced the Snoopy dance and blared horns. It was like waking up from a long, national nightmare. And not in hatred . Not in hatred of Republicans. Just change.

So today, in frigid weather lots of people have made this march on Washington to celebrate. This president took a little bit from history in using the train to enter town. In Baltimore 40,000 people came to hear him speak briefly. IN THE COLD ( Song_ Ain't No Stopping Us Now- We are on the move!!)

Diversity Lives

The mall is a funny place. You can visit museums, and touch history there, The last big open celebration was when the Museum of the American Indian opened with the jumbotrons.( huge televisions) That too was a signal of change. Diversity lives...

Those of us who live in Washington are on the mall with frisbees, on the mall for concerts, on the mall for the Festival of the Smithsonian around the 4th of July, when heat is the problem and you just want to drink lemonade or water. The mall is the place of the AIDS quilts, used to be, the March of a Million Black Men, the protests and counter protests of those who advocate pro choice or choice. We have our nation back.

Not a March of a Million Black Men

Change coming with one, elected by most of us.

Obama.. it was a change that we who voted spoke for.

We have our mall back.

We have our nation back.

We have change.

Change is good.

It might be cold on the mall on Inauguration day, but the heart and passion and hopes of the nation will keep us warm. We can be the change we want to make.

Bonnie Bracey Sutton
Teacher and advocate of technology and education for all.

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