Turning the Dirt in DC

This morning in Washington DC, between the memorials to America’s two mavericks of liberty and freedom, Lincoln and Jefferson, behind long rows of dignitaries, shovels and a trough of dirt, stood Ambassador Andrew Young with a microphone in his hand.

Standing beside the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Ambassador Young cued those assembled to “turn the dirt” to break ground on the Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial in our nation’s capital.

Like the results of the midterm elections, the groundbreaking in Washington, DC turned over the dirt that runs along the tidal basin, a short distance from Capitol Hill, to re-establish the people’s America – our America.

With joyous choral voices fading, the Ambassador recalled the final planning meeting with this country’s last great leader in Atlanta before they took that ill fated journey to help sanitation workers in Memphis. As Andy Young spoke tearfully and Jesse Jackson sobbed, Congressman John Lewis, who was also at that meeting in the early spring of 1968, stood along the shovel line, gripping the tool’s handle with one hand, while the other held his bent head. His shoulders were shaking; his wet face was hidden in his palm.

Ambassador Young talked about how Dr. King told them, in the hours before his assassination, that they were laying the whole movement on him, that they needed to step up and be the leaders as well, that he was thinking of stepping down if he couldn’t count on them.

With tears, the great men at today’s event showed more than the sadness that comes from memory and loss. They were the tears of great men awed by the grace life gave them to be in the presence of the greatest of men.

So, at Andy Young’s cue, the group “turned the dirt,” and in the wake of the speeches and the songs, an old era of struggling for liberty was insured of its endurance, and a new era of reclaimed promise was insured of its time in the sun.

From the changes wrought by their marches and protests and even their blood, we can now all affect change through the ballot box, as we did one week ago.

May we all humbly take the torch they now hand us and – as they did when Dr. King handed it to them – move it forward strongly, resolutely and justly for the sake of all America, all Her people, and all the people of the world.


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