Posts Tagged ‘I Have a Dream speech’

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The Carousel on the National Mall

On August 28, 1963, during “the March on Washington,” Rev. Martin Luther’s King, Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  On that same day, just 45 miles away, the practice of segregation was discontinued at the Gwynn Oak Amusement Park just outside of Baltimore.  And an eleven-month-old baby named Sharon Langley was the first African American child to go on a ride there when, along with two white children, she rode on the park’s classic, old-time carousel.

The next day, “amid all the news stories about the March on Washington, there were also stories on Sharon Langley’s merry-go-round ride. Three kids – one black and two white – riding together provided an example of the harmony King spoke about at the march, when he hoped that one day black children and white children would regard each other as “sisters and brothers.”

On today’s lunchtime bike ride I went see that carousel.  But I didn’t have to ride all the way to Baltimore to do so.  Today that very same carousel is here in D.C., on the National Mall (MAP) in front of the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building, where young children enjoy themselves while their parents watch them ride the seemingly benign carousel, unaware that it has a rich history which is much more interesting than its appearance would suggest.

On April 12, 1967, the Smithsonian Secretary S. Dillon Ripley opened the carousel on the National Mall.  The original carousel was built in 1922 by the Allan Herschell Company, and was accompanied by a 153 Wurlitzer Band Organ.  At that time, rides cost 25 cents.  However, not everyone was happy to see a carousel placed on “America’s front yard.”  Some were concerned that that the carousel, along with the  popcorn wagons and some outdoor puppet and musical performances that were already there at the time, would lead to the Smithsonian developing into what the New York Times termed “an ivy-covered Disneyland.”   But that never happened, and the carousel remains to this day.

Today’s carousel is not the original, though.  Due to wear and tear the original carousel was replaced in 1981 with the carousel from the Gwynn Oak Amusement Park, which was forced to close in 1973 after suffering severe damage from flooding when Hurricane Agnes.  The Gwynn Oak carousel is 10 feet larger in diameter and has 60 brightly-painted horses, as opposed to the former which had 33.  It also has a few non-moving seats, and one sea dragon.  And riding on the carousel is not limited to children.  All are welcome, including adults, as long as you’re willing to pay the current ticket price of $3.50.

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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A Memorial within a Memorial

Our nation’s capitol is so replete with memorials that there are sometimes actually memorials within other memorials.  Such is the case with the inscription on the steps of The Lincoln Memorial which commemorates the spot where Martin Luther King, Jr. stood when he gave his historic “I Have a Dream” speech.

It was August 28, 1963.  Approximately 250,000 people participating in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which would later prove to be a high point of the American civil rights movement, descended on D.C. and occupied the grounds of the Lincoln Memorial and surrounded the reflecting pool. It was there, in the shadow of the memorial honoring the president who had issued the Emancipation Proclamation to free the slaves a century earlier, that Rev. King addressed those in attendance.

The elevated spot on the steps of the memorial was not only chosen for its symbolism and for its practical value in addressing the crowd, but for security reasons as well. Surrounded on three sides, it was thought that the spot was ideal in that if an incident occurred it would be able to be easily contained.

Twenty years later, on August 28, 1983, crowds gathered again to mark the 20th Anniversary of the March on Washington and reflect on the progress that had been made in the civil rights movement, and to recommit to the ideals of the march in correcting injustices.

In August of 2003 on the 40th anniversary of the March on Washington, the landing eighteen steps below Lincoln’s statue from where the speech was given was engraved to read, “I Have a Dream – Martin Luther King, Jr. – March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom – August 28, 1963.” This was still several years prior to the construction and opening of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, and is considered by some to be D.C.’s original memorial to Rev. King.

On this bike ride I rode to this memorial within a memorial, officially located at 2 Lincoln Memorial Circle (MAP) to stand on this historic ground and reflect on what occurred there in the past.

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The Historic Willard Hotel

On this day in 1861, Abraham Lincoln and his entourage were holed up in the Willard Hotel, where they had gone in order to avoid an assassination attempt. So on today’s bike ride, I went by to see the historic D.C. hotel for myself.

The Willard Hotel is located at 1401 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP), just two blocks east of The White House. It is a luxury hotel, with a history of famous guests over the years. In addition to Lincoln, Presidents Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce, Buchanan, Lincoln, Taft, Wilson, Coolidge and Harding all stayed at the Willard.  President Grant also stayed there, and frequented the Willard lobby during his presidency, where he coined the term “lobbyists.”  And two vice-presidents actually lived there during their terms in office. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in his hotel room at the Willard in 1963 in the days before delivering it from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  The Willard also hosted Julia Ward Howe, who wrote the words for The Battle Hymn of the Republic in her room at the hotel early one morning.  Among the Willard’s many other notable guests are P. T. Barnum, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, General Tom Thumb, Samuel Morse, the Duke of Windsor, Harry Houdini, Gypsy Rose Lee, Gloria Swanson, Emily Dickinson, Charles Dickens, and Buffalo Bill.

But it was back in 1861 that the soon-to-be President not only arrived, but arrived at the hotel unexpectedly, and in a disguise. Lincoln had been travelling by train from his home in Springfield, Illinois, to his inauguration in D.C., and had planned to stop in Baltimore on the way. Shortly after departing Springfield, however, his aides received reports of a planned assassination attempt in Baltimore.  Secessionists were planning an attack involving several men armed with knives who would attack when Lincoln walked down a narrow corridor as he switched Baltimore and Ohio Railroad trains at the President Street Station in Baltimore.  So his train was ordered to proceed immediately to D.C.

The plot in Baltimore was uncovered by Lincoln’s head of security, Allan Pinkerton, who would later go on to found the famous Pinkerton private detective agency. Following a contentious election during which slaveholding states threatened to secede from the Union, angry southern conspirators vowed to kill the man they perceived as an abolitionist President before he entered office. Working undercover, Pinkerton met with a secessionist named Cipriano Fernandini, who turned out to be the leader of the assassination plot. During that meeting one of Fernandini’s co-conspirators stated, “That damned abolitionist shall never set foot on Southern soil but to find a grave. One week from today the North shall want a new president, for Lincoln will be dead.”

Even when news of the plot reached Lincoln, he argued for keeping the Baltimore engagement, much to his aides’ frustration. But a stubborn Lincoln finally submitted to his wife’s insistence that he abandon his plans, and the attack was successfully avoided. Lincoln remained at the Willard Hotel under heavy military guard, holding meetings in the lobby and carrying on business from his room, until his inauguration on March 4, 1861, when he became the first President from the Republican Party.

Ironically, Lincoln went on to direct his inaugural address to the South, proclaiming once again that he had no intention, or inclination, to abolish slavery in the Southern states.

Currently, you can stay in the John Adams Presidential Suite at the Willard Hotel for $3,500 per day.  But it was less expensive in Lincoln’s day.  The hotel maintains a small historical display in a hallway just inside the northeast entrance. There you can see a copy of Lincoln’s hotel bill.  Lodging for him and five members of his family totaled $148.50 for their ten-day stay.  Room service, which included private meals, whiskey, brandy and champagne, and other incidental items, comprised the rest of the $773.75 bill.  Lincoln paid the bill with his first paycheck as President.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]