In the months of May and June, the area surrounding the National Mall of Washington, D.C. is aswarm with the easily discernible energy of middle-schoolers. Schools across the nation, celebrating the end of a school year, send their students, by the busload, to bring classroom history and civics lessons to life. The outcome of this experience- besides the blisters, spells of dehydration and exhaustion- is by design, a more informed and appreciative citizen.
One can read about the Vietnam War or watch one of the popular mainstream films that attempt to encapsulate the era in which it was fought, but you can't replicate the experience of seeing a grieving friend at the Wall- connecting with someone they knew decades ago. One can't imagine the silent tension of remembrance that you feel while walking the expanse of the entire Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
There are similar scenes and moments of historical absorption at the other war memorials nearby, including the Korean War Memorial and the World War II Memorial. At these memorials, you can speak with, and gain a new appreciation for, the veterans of these wars. They regularly come back to these memorials, proudly wearing hats, clothing or medals that indicate their specific service, to honor their friends and fellow service men and women- many of which didn't come home.
In 2011, the National Park Service established a new monument- the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. The experience at this site provides a different experience for the visitor. It stands as a powerful commemoration of the wisdom of the great Civil Rights leader. On August 28th, 1963, Dr. King stood at the Lincoln Memorial (see photo above) and delivered one of the most famous speeches in American History; the "I Have A Dream" speech. In the speech, Dr. King craftily used the words of the Declaration of Independence to demand new civil rights legislation. Fittingly and intentionally, the memorial to Dr. King is placed in a way to create a straight line from Abraham Lincoln to Dr. King to Thomas Jefferson (one of the authors of the Declaration of Independence).
The National Mall experience, a rite of passage for so many American middle-schoolers, and for so many more reasons and places than I described above, is an invigorating experience that provides physical and emotional reminders of our democratic values.
My favorite spot? Yes, the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. At the feet of Lincoln. Where King stood. From this vantage point, we see the towering monument named after our first President and in the distance the U.S. Capitol, where our current political leaders work. This one place, with its rich history, encourages us to reflect on what has been and dream of what can be.
Photo Credit: Me
On a previous visit to Washington D.C., I woke up early, grabbed a Capital Bike just down the block from the hotel and pedaled furiously to the Mall, hoping to have the Lincoln Memorial to myself. This shot is from the top of the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, from the spot that Dr. King stood while delivering his "I Have A Dream" speech on August 28th, 1963.