The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

Today America got its first close-up look at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C.  Although the Memorial won’t be formally dedicated until this weekend, it was opened to the public today.

The Memorial features a 30-foot tall statue of a standing Dr. King hewn from granite, as well as a wall with quotations, a bookstore, and dozens of cherry trees.  The Memorial is in a beautiful location adjacent to the Tidal Basin and about halfway between the Jefferson Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial.  Fittingly, it is in close proximity to the Lincoln Memorial, where Dr. King gave the “I have a dream” speech — arguably the most significant speech given by an American since Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address.

I think it is wonderful that a memorial to Dr. King has been included on the National Mall.  King was a profoundly influential figure whose words have inspired generations of Americans of all races and creeds.  He not only is the first person of color to be recognized on the National Mall, but also the first non-President.  Both of those firsts are long overdue.

A Disturbing Reminder

I saw on the RealClearPolitics website that today is the 28th anniversary of the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan. It sent a shiver down my spine and brought back some weird memories. President Reagan was shot during the first week I was on the job as the press secretary and legislative aide for Congressman Chalmers P. Wylie. The shooting happened not too far from our offices at the Rayburn House Office Building, and I had to write about the shooting for the Congressman’s weekly radio broadcast. Fortunately, the President was not fatally wounded, and his brave and uplifting reaction to the shooting — I recall he told his wife, “Honey, I forgot to duck” — helped everyone to get past a traumatic incident.

It seems odd now, but I grew up with political assassination attempts as a regular part of the landscape. President Kennedy was shot when I was in kindergarten; I remember the news coming over the loudspeaker system and my teacher crying. When I was 11, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated. Then George Wallace was shot, and there were two attempts on the life of President Ford, the killing of Harvey Milk, and finally the shooting of President Reagan. And then, seemingly as abruptly as they began . . . the shootings blessedly stopped. The worst incident that I can think of since the Reagan shooting was the recent Baghdad press conference where the Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at President Bush. This change obviously is a wonderful move in the right direction — but what caused it?