On the eighteenth step down from the Lincoln statue at the Lincoln Memorial, there is an engraved stone that was added in 2003:
Martin Luther King, Jr's "I Have a Dream" speech is such a big part of the Lincoln Memorial story that the spot on which King stood, on the first landing below Lincoln's statue, was engraved in recognition of the 40th anniversary of the event. It's easy to miss. The small stone is completely flat and letters have not been painted in, but on a dry day, you can spill a bit of water over the letters and get a legible photo.
At the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday was the first time I've seen this added stone with a camera in hand. I asked The Caterpillar to pose for me. Even with reflecting pool between the Lincoln Memorial and the World War II Memorial under renovation, you can still get a sense of what Martin Luther King, Jr. looked out over when he stood on this spot in 1963. Imagine all that space behind her being filled up with people.
Last year The Dormouse came home from school with a crazy story a little friend in her class had told her about how Martin Luther King, Jr. died. Now this particular friend is not known for her tight grip on reality, but even from a kids make things up all the time standpoint, this story was bizarre. Something to do with Martin drowning at age eight at the hands of his classmates and his skin turning green before he died. I'm sure there's a back story somewhere, but I didn't really want to know. We briefly told The Dormouse that it wasn't true and that Martin Luther King lived until he was thirty-nine and he was shot by someone and that she shouldn't believe everything Little Suzie told her because Little Suzie was a liar. (OK, we didn't actually say that last part.) But The Dormouse was completely convinced this girl's story was true and everything else we thought we knew about Martin Luther King, Jr. was just a vast, right-wing conspiracy. Every day she came home with a new "fact," each more bizarre than the next.
So one evening, I sat down with The Dormouse to address it. I explained as best I could on a first grade level, exactly who he was and what he accomplished... and how important that thing he accomplished was to us now. I pulled up YouTube on the computer (How did people parent before the Internet? It's unfathomable.) to show her the video recordings of the "I Have a Dream" speech which Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered in 1963 at age thirty-four... twenty-six years after his eighth birthday and with decidedly non-green colored skin. And as I watched the video with The Dormouse and tried to explain why this speech was history changing, I got completely choked up.
The civil rights march on Washington happened before I was born. The Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964 - also before I was born. So I don't really have a unique, personal connection to this event. In my lifetime, in theory if not in practice, Martin Luther King's words have always been "how it's supposed to be." I told The Dormouse this too. I explained to her how we still have a lot of work to do and how we are still working to make sure we treat everyone equally under the law, but that things were better now than they were back then. And I reminded her that we needed to continue to remember to judge people - all people - like Mr. King said, "by the content of their character."
Later that night, The Dormouse told The KingofHearts, "Daddy, Mommy showed me Martin Luther King on the computer and he did live until he was a man."
"That's what we've been trying to tell you, honey."
"Momma played a video of him giving a speech in front of a lot of people in Washington. We watched the whole thing and it was long but it was neat and Momma cried."
"That doesn't surprise me, honey."