By Earl Heath –
As a youngster growing up in Waterford, Connecticut, things were a little different for my family and myself. One obvious difference was that we were one of the few African American families in the town of about 4,000. My father was in the Navy and stationed at the nearby Naval base in Groton, Connecticut.
Most of the people of color were brought there because of the Navy. It was quiet easygoing most of the time. Someone very near and dear to me was a housekeeper for former FBI heads L. Patrick Gray and J. Edgar Hoover who had beach homes in New London the town next door.
One rainy night in April of 1968, the programming on the T.V. was interrupted. The news was the death of Martin Luther King Jr. He was shot in Memphis. I was only nine years old and my brother Gerald was ten. We were told to walk to the store and get some ginger ale. On the way we stopped by the Half Keg Tavern looking through the large picture window, all the people in the bar were fixed to the television. There was a report on the shooting being shown. We both didn’t understand the magnitude of what happened.
The next day in school, my fourth grade teacher Mrs. Barrett said, “I’m sorry for what happened last night.” I looked at her in a puzzling way. “You don’t understand now but someday you’ll understand,” she added. Well I certainly understand now. When you speak in front of more than 200,000 in Washington D.C. you understand. When you win the Nobel Peace Prize, you understand. When you get the Civil Rights Act signed by the President of the United States, you understand. When you change the course of the world, you understand. Recently, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial opened at the Washington Mall. It’s only the fourth monument in the mall that pays tribute to a non-President and the first to honor an African American. It was to be five days of celebration, however due to hurricane Irene many events were postponed until later this year.
There was time for an international salute dinner that had MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell as mistress of ceremony. “This memorial that was dedicated this weekend matters so much, not only for our generation but for future generations. Through his words and powerful gaze and his eyes carved from the stone of hope, we can all try to know him, to better understand where he was trying to lead us to a revolution that’s still unfinished nearly a half century later,” said Mitchell.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, another Nobel Peace Prize winner, sent a video message that was played. “I am one of the millions who owe their freedom to Dr. King’s advocacy of democracy, justice, hope and love. Dr. King’s teachings inspired and established a new era of civil rights in America. His spirit has encouraged new democracies around the world, including here in South Africa,” said the Archbishop. “The power of his legacy continues to inspire and guide people searching for freedom and equality. This wonderful memorial will permanently stand in the heart of America’s capital city, but the values it represents will reach and resound around the world.”
“It's far easier to talk about the redemptive power of love than it is to apply that concept in a complex and challenging world,” said former Secretary of state Madeline Albright. “We cannot always live up to the standard that Dr. King established and we should admit that. But if we ever fail to acknowledge morality as a guiding light, we are truly lost and we should never forget that.”
Best Buy gave $1 million to help fund the memorial, marking the company's first donation to a national capital fund and signaling its support for the permanent memorial of Dr. King, commemorating his life and legacy at the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
"Dr. King's powerful story inspires us all to live by his example of service, peace and equality," said Brian J. Dunn, CEO, Best Buy. "It's in Best Buy's DNA to carry forward these same values and the spirit of inclusion and respect promoted by Dr. King; our involvement in the memorial is one way to honor him and his dream."
Stevie Wonder made a surprise appearance. Harry Johnson President and CEO of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial foundation arranged for a cherry picker to assist Wonder in experiencing the monument through touch.
Wonder announced that he would donate $10,000 annually so that other blind people could experience it.
When members of Alpha Phi Alpha (Kings fraternity) thought about organizing this in 1983 no one thought that there would be a Black President." Dr. Jeff Ogbar of the University of Connecticut had an eye opening verbal input, "To have that is deeply symbolic. The Monument being unveiled by a Black President is incredibly symbolic."
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