Posts Tagged ‘Martin Luther King Jr.’

The “One Thousand Ministers March for Justice”

On today’s 54th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, a rally and march was held here in D.C.  Entitled the “One Thousand Ministers March for Justice”, the event was organized by organized by Reverend Al Sharpton’s National Action Network.  Participants gathered in the field just west of the memorial to Reverend King and opened the event with a rally.  They then marched from the King Memorial, past the White House and the Trump International Hotel, and on to the U.S. Department of Justice Building a little over a mile away from the beginning.  And on today’s bike ride I rode over and attended the rally, and then rode along with the march.

The march was deemed non political by its organizers and much of the press.  But it was anything but non political.  When I first arrived at the rally I heard the speaker on the stage at that time describe his divisive view of who was and was not a Christian.  Included along with many other, he denounced evangelical as not being Christians.  He then used the remainder of his time to criticize President Donald Trump, announcing that he also was not a Christian.  The rally was so political, in fact, that an alternate rally was held at the National Press Club by other prominent religious leaders who did not share the political opinions being expressed at the march.n

In the end, I found it disappointing that an event that was billed as non political was as political, although not as passionate, as one of President Trump’s recent rallies, such as the one held in Phoenix last week.  But it was even more disappointing that a rally and march intended to be an interfaith event was used to denounce people of faith if they disagreed with the liberal politics of those who helped lead the event.

         

         

         

         

        
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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 March for Life

The March for Life

Occasionally the destination for my daily lunchtime bike ride is an event rather than a location. That was the case for this ride, as it is every January 22nd, when the “March for Life” takes place in D.C. The March for Life is an annual event which began as a small demonstration on the first anniversary of U.S. Supreme Court decisions in the cases known as Roe v Wade and Doe v Bolton, which were landmark decisions on the issue of abortion.  Over the years the March for Life has grown to include numerous other cities in the United States and throughout the world. The March in D.C., however, has become and remains the largest pro-life event in the world.

The first March for Life was founded by Nellie Gray, a lawyer and employee of the Federal government for 28 years, who after the Supreme Court decisions chose to retired and become a pro-life activist. The event was held on January 22, 1974, on the West Steps of the U.S. Capitol Building, with an estimated 20,000 supporters in attendance. Over the years, the attendance has increased substantially, with recent estimates of well in excess of a half a million participants. And it is estimated that about half of the marchers are under age 30, with many teenagers and college students attending the march each year, typically traveling with church and other youth groups.

The day’s events usually begin at noon with a rally on the National Mall, which features prominent activists, celebrities, and politicians. In some past years it has even including addresses by U.S. Presidents, including Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.  President Barack Obama has been invited, but chose instead to decline and issue a pro-abortion written statement.  The rally is followed by the march, which begins near Fourth Street and travels down Constitution Avenue, turns right at First Street and proceeds past the U.S. Capitol Building, before ending on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court Building.  Another rally is then held in front of the Supreme Court Building, which features accounts from women who regret their abortion, referred to as “Silent No More” testimonies.

Many other associated events also take place in D.C. each year during the week in which the March is held. Various pro-life organizations hold events such as a candlelight vigil at the Supreme Court building, church and prayer services, educational conferences, and visits to lobby Congressional representatives. A dinner is also held each year, hosted by The March for Life Education and Defense Fund, which is the primary organizer for the March. An organization named Students for Life of America, which is the largest association of pro-life groups or clubs on college campuses, also holds an annual conference in D.C. for pro-life youth on the week of the march.

In recent years, the March for Life has chosen to focus on a theme in order to bring attention to specific aspects of the issue. Coinciding with this year’s 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the March for Life 2015 theme is “Every Life is a Gift,” with a special focus on babies who are diagnosed in the womb with a disability or fetal abnormality. Statistics indicate that this population is at the greatest risk for abortion, with studies indicating that approximately 85% of these pregnancies are ended by abortion, compared with the national abortion average of approximately 20%.

During this week that began with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal holiday, I also found it noteworthy that his niece, Dr. Alveda King, was a prominent participant in the March for Life.  Dr. Alveda King is a civil rights advocate, NAACP member, author, and Christian minister.  In her capacity as a full-time Pastoral Associate of African-American Outreach for the Roman Catholic group, Priests for Life, she is also a staunch and outspoken pro-life advocate.

March for Life has received relatively little attention from the press or mainstream media over the years. So to counter the relative lack of coverage, one of the March for Life’s supporters, The Family Research Council, organized what it called a Blogs for Life conference several years ago, which took place in D.C. and was one of the March for Life week’s events in 2011. The main goal of the conference was to “bring pro-life bloggers together to discuss strategies for securing more effective media coverage and advancing anti-abortion issues. Such strategies include securing media coverage through legislative means or by tapping into the new media outlets of the future, such as blogging.

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Bohemian Caverns Jazz Club

On this bike ride I went by Bohemian Caverns, a legendary jazz club located in the U Street Corridor at the corner of 11th Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Shaw/Uptown neighborhood.

The club started out in 1926 as a small basement venue named Club Cavern, and was one of the spots where many prominent musicians of the day, including native Washingtonian Duke Ellington, came to relax after local shows to enjoy after-hours jazz.

In the 1950s, the club’s name was changed to Crystal Caverns and then to Bohemian Caverns, during which time it became the premier jazz venue in D.C., hosting such famous artists as Miles Davis, Shirley Horn, John Coltrane, and Ramsey Lewis.

During the late 1960’s business at the club began to decline, and as a result of the destruction of many nearby business during the riots that following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the club suffered additional financial difficulties and was ultimately forced to close its doors in September of 1968. Three decades later, as re-development of the U Street Corridor was underway, the club reopened and returned to its earlier prominence.

Bohemian Caverns is one of the few clubs from the 1920s to have survived, and despite some periods of shutdown, it remains one of the premier jazz hot spots of contemporary D.C.

Ben's Chili Bowl

Ben’s Chili Bowl

September’s end-of-the-month restaurant review is of Ben’s Chili Bowl. A D.C. landmark restaurant, it is located in northwest D.C.’s Shaw neighborhood, next to The Lincoln Theatre, in an historic building at 1213 U Street (MAP).  Built in 1910, the building originally housed the city’s first silent movie house, named The Minnehaha Theater. Later, Harry Beckley, one of D.C.’s first Black police detectives, converted it into a pool hall.  A family-run business, Ben’s Chili Bowl was originally opened by Ben Ali, a Trinidadian-born immigrant who had studied dentistry at nearby Howard University, and his fiancee, Virginian-born Virginia Rollins. They were married seven weeks after opening the restaurant.  Today it is run by their sons, Kamal and Nizam.

From the unrest of the late 1960’s race riots that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., to the tough economic times in the 1970’s and 1980’s that resulted from the destruction of much of the neighborhood’s businesses during the riots, and finally to the revitalization and gentrification of the U Street Corridor beginning in the 1990’s, Ben’s has survived and seen it all. Over 50 years later, Ben’s remains as it has always been, right down to the red booths and bar stools and Formica counters, which are the original ones from when the restaurant first opened. Even Ben’s large neon “Home of the Famous Chili Dog” hearkens back to an earlier time.

Locals and tourists, as well as celebrities including Bill Cosby, Chris Tucker and Bono, and politicians such as President Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, have flocked to Ben’s Chili Bowl for decades for its rich history, friendly atmosphere and delicious food.  A sign at the restaurant, however, notifies patrons that only Mr. Cosby and the Obama family eat for free.

The menu at Ben’s includes the traditional hot dogs and hamburgers and fries, as well as more recently added healthier choices such as turkey dogs and vegetarian burgers. But I must confess that I have not tried any of these offerings. It seems almost wrong to go to Ben’s and not have what they are most famous for.

Ben’s namesake chili is still made according to the original recipe, and comes complete with chunks of ground beef, green peppers and onions, and is filled with spices to tantalize your taste buds. The chili is available by the bowl, as well as how I prefer it – as a condiment for the hot dogs, French fries, and just about anything else on the menu. But my recommendation is to try “Bill Cosby’s Original Chili Half-smoke.” Originally made famous by Ben’s in 1958 and a favorite of Mr. Cosby’s since the early 1960s, it is a mouth-watering and juicy half-pork and half-beef smoked sausage, topped with their spicy chili, on a warm steamed bun. It is considered not only Ben’s, but D.C.’s signature dish.

Recently, Ben’s Chili Bowl has also expanded by opening a new restaurant and bar called Ben’s Next Door, in addition to outposts at Nationals Park and FedEx Field, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, and across the river in Rosslyn neighborhood of Arlington, Virginia. And although the food is the same, there is something about the original location that makes everything just a little bit better.  But don’t take my word for it.  You don’t even have to believe the prestigious James Beard Foundation, which named Ben’s one of the “down-home eateries that have carved out a special place on the American culinary landscape.”  I recommend that you stop by and try it for yourself.

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The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

One of the most recently dedicated of D.C.’s major national memorials is the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, and that was the destination of this bike ride.  The memorial opened to the public three years ago today, on August 22, 2011, after more than two decades of planning, fund-raising and construction.  A dedication ceremony for the memorial was originally scheduled for later that same week, and had the ceremony taken place it would have coincided with the 48th anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech that King delivered on August 28, 1963, from the steps of The Lincoln Memorial.  Unfortunately, the dedication ceremony could not be held because of Hurricane Irene, and was rescheduled for later that fall.

The memorial is located on a four-acre plot of land in southwest D.C.’s West Potomac Park, and is situated on one of the most prestigious sites that was remaining near the National Mall, at the northwest corner of the Tidal Basin near The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial.  It is situated on a sightline linking The Lincoln Memorial to the northwest and The Jefferson Memorial to the southeast. The official address of the monument is 1964 Independence Avenue (MAP), an address specifically assigned to symbolically commemorate the year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law.

The large centerpiece of the multi-faceted memorial is based on a soul-stirring line from King’s “I Have a Dream” speech: “Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”  The “Stone of Hope” is a 30-foot statue of a standing King, who is depicted with his arms folded in front of him, gazing over the Tidal Basin toward the horizon.  The sculpture was carved from 159 granite blocks that were assembled to appear as one singular piece.  The Stone of Hope seems to have emerged from within a large boulder behind it, representing the “Mountain of Despair,” which has been split in half as it gives way to the Stone of Hope.

The memorial also includes a 450-foot crescent-shaped inscription wall, made from granite panels, that is inscribed with 14 excerpts of King’s sermons and public addresses to serve as living testaments of his vision of America.  The earliest inscription is from the time of the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott in Alabama, and the latest is taken from his final sermon, delivered in D.C.’s National Cathedral just four days before his assassination in 1968.

Landscape elements of the Memorial include American elm trees, Yoshino cherry trees, liriope plants, English yew, jasmine and sumac.  And at the entrance to the Memorial, there are a bookstore and National Park Service ranger station which includes a gift shop, audio visual displays, touch-screen kiosks and more.

Like most other memorials, monuments, statues, and just about everything else in D.C., The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial is not without controversy.  In fact, the memorial has been involved in or at the center of a couple of controversies.

One controversy had to do with an inscription found on the Stone of Hope.  Each side includes a statement attributed to King.  The first reads “Out of the Mountain of Despair, a Stone of Hope,” the quotation that serves as the basis for the monument’s design.  The words on the other side of the stone used to read, “I Was a Drum Major for Justice, Peace, and Righteousness.”   On first reading, it seems an odd choice considering the phrase “I have a dream” is found nowhere on the monument.  The drum major quote, as it was inscribed on the monument, is a paraphrased version of a longer quote by King: “If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.” The memorial’s use of the paraphrased version of the quote was heavily criticized as turning a conditional statement into a boast, which was in direct opposition to the meaning of his sermon about the evils of self-promotion from which the quote is taken.  Among the most vocal about this quote was the poet, Maya Angelou, who knew King, and said that the misquote makes King look like an “arrogant twit” and called for it to be changed, at whatever the cost.  The inscription was removed in August of last year.

The other controversy has to do with the King family demanding that “The Washington, D.C. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation,” which oversees the memorial, pay licensing fees to use King’s name and likeness.  The issue of the fee originally delayed the building of the memorial.  The memorial’s foundation, beset by delays and a languid pace of donations, stated at the time that “the last thing it needs is to pay an onerous fee to the King family.”  And historian David Garrow, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his biography of King, said, “One would think any family would be so thrilled to have their forefather celebrated and memorialized in D.C. that it would never dawn on them to ask for a penny.” He added that King would have been “absolutely scandalized by the profiteering behavior of his children.”  In response to the criticism, the family pledged that any money derived from the memorial foundation would go back to the King Center’s charitable efforts.  Eventually, an agreement was reached in which the foundation has paid various fees to the King family, including a management fee of $71,700 back in 2003.  Additionally, in 2009, the Associated Press revealed that the King family had negotiated a $761,160 licensing deal with the foundation for the use of King’s words and image in fundraising materials for the memorial.

However, the controversies do not diminish the importance of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, and it remains a lasting tribute to King’s legacy and serves as a monument to the freedom, opportunity and justice for which he stood.

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The Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool

The Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool

On this ride I went by the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, located on the National Mall directly east of the Lincoln Memorial (MAP), with The Washington Monument to the east of the reflecting pool.  It is lined by walking paths and shade trees on both sides.  Depending on the viewer’s vantage point, it dramatically reflects the Lincoln Memorial, as well as the Washington Monument, the Mall’s trees, and the expansive sky above D.C.

The Reflecting Pool was designed by American architect Henry Bacon, who also designed The Lincoln Memorial.  It was constructed beginning in 1922, following the dedication of the President Lincoln’s Memorial, and completed the following year.  At over a third of a mile long and 167 feet wide, with a a depth of approximately 18 inches on the sides and 30 inches in the center, the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool is the largest of the many reflecting pools in D.C.

A few years ago the National Park Service determined that the Reflecting Pool’s massive weight had begun to cause it to leak and sink, while the approximately 6,750,000 gallons of water in it had become stagnant.  As a result, it underwent an extensive rennovation.  The massive project , which was part of President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus package called the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, shut down a large swath of the National Mall for almost two years as the old pool was removed and the new one constructed.  The Reflecting Pool reopened just before Labor Day in 2012.

The newly renovated landmark remains the largest in D.C., but is shallower than the original, measuring less than three feet at its deepest point.  This not only makes it lighter but saves water as well. Its bottom is tinted gray to make the water darker and more reflective.  And the new pool has been reengineered with a circulation and filtration system. So instead of continuing to use city water, it draws river water from the nearby Tidal Basin, conserving approximately 20 million gallons of drinking water each year.

As a result of the renovation project, the grounds also include new security features to prevent a vehicle from reaching the Lincoln Memorial for a potential terrorist attack, like the one which occurred in 2003 when an angry tobacco farmer from North Carolina named Dwight Ware Watson brought much of the nation’s capitol to a standstill for two days when he drove a tractor into the pond in the nearby Constitution Gardens area of the National Mall and claimed to have explosives.

When visiting the Reflecting Pool, one cannot help but reflect on the rich history of events that have taken place there.  Included in the long list of events are when singer Marian Anderson sang at an open air concert on Easter Sunday in 1939, because she had been denied permission to perform at D.C.’s Constitution Hall because she was African American.  On August 28, 1963, the Reflecting Pool was also the site of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered from the steps of the memorial to a crowd of 250,000 people during the Civil Rights Movement’s March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. And several protests against the Vietnam War took place in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s around the Reflection Pool, attracting hundreds of thousands of protestors.  These and many other events make the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool a site for reflection in more ways than one.

The Lincoln Memorial

The Lincoln Memorial

Even if you have never been able to visit the Lincoln Memorial in person, you have most likely seen it many times. An image of the monument to the 16th President is on United States currency, appearing on both the back of the five dollar bill and the reverse side of all pennies minted prior to 2009.  With five dollars and one cent in my pocket on this ride, I rode to the Lincoln Memorial, located at the west end of the National Mall (MAP), across from The Washington Monument.

The Lincoln Memorial was designed by architect Henry Bacon after ancient Greek temples, and stands 190 feet long, is 119 feet wide and almost 100 feet high, with a cement foundation that is 60 feet deep. It is surrounded by 36 enormous columns, one for each of the states in the Union at the time of Lincoln’s death.  By the time the monument was completed, the Union had increased by 12 more states, so the names of all 48 states were carved on the outside of the walls of the memorial. Following the admission of Alaska and Hawaii as states, a plaque with the names of these new states was added.  The statue of the President, which was sculpted by Daniel Chester French, is 19 feet high and weighs 175 tons. The original plan was for the statue to be only ten feet high, but this was changed so that the figure of Lincoln would not be dwarfed by the size of the chamber in which it sits.  The north and south side chambers contain inscriptions of two well-known speeches by President Lincoln, The Gettysburg Address and his second presidential inauguration address in 1865, the latter of which contains a fairly well-known mistake.

Roughly two years following Lincoln’s death in 1865, the U.S. Congress appointed the Lincoln Monument Association to build a memorial to commemorate the assassinated President.  However, the site for the memorial was not chosen until 1901.  Another decade later, President William Howard Taft signed a bill to provide funding for the memorial, and construction began the following month, on February 12th, to commemorate Lincoln’s 102nd birthday.  The Presidential memorial was finally completed and opened to the public in 1922.  On May 30, 1922, Former President and then Supreme Court Chief Justice William Howard Taft and Robert Todd Lincoln, the only surviving child of Lincoln’s four children, lead the monument’s dedication ceremony.

Over the years, the Lincoln Memorial has been the site of a number of famous events, including protests, concerts and speeches.  Perhaps the most famous of which occurred on August 28, 1963.  The Memorial’s grounds were the site of the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” which proved to be a high point of the American Civil Rights Movement.  It is estimated that over a quarter of a million people participated in the event.  It was then that Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the memorial.  The location where King delivered the speech is commemorated with an inscription carved into the steps.

Today, the Lincoln Memorial receives almost four million visitors per year.  Admission is free, and it is open to the public 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – except Christmas Day.  The memorial is administered by the National Park Service, and provides Park Service rangers on site from 9:30 am until 11:30 pm each day it is open to address questions about the Memorial.

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Freedom Plaza

Freedom Plaza

Freedom Plaza, originally known as Western Plaza, is an open urban plaza built in 1980 in northwest D.C., located at 1455 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP), at the corner of 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.  It is adjacent to Pershing Park, and just a few blocks from the White House.  The plaza was designed and developed by The Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation, as part of a plan to transform Pennsylvania Avenue into a ceremonial route connecting the U.S. Capitol Building and the White House.

The western end of the plaza contains a raised reflecting pool with a large, animated circular fountain, while the eastern end contains an equestrian statue of Kazimierz Pułaski, a general in the Continental Army.  The center of the plaza contains a giant inlaid black granite and white marble map of the national capital city, as designed by Pierre L’Enfant, with grass panels representing the National Mall and the Ellipse, and bronze markers denoting the U.S. Capitol Building and the White House.

It was renamed Freedom Plaza in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., who worked on his “I Have a Dream” speech in the nearby Willard Hotel.  At the time the name was changed in 1988, a time capsule containing a Bible, a robe, and other relics of King’s was planted at the site.  I look forward to another bike ride there in 2088 when the time capsule will be reopened.

Freedom Plaza is a popular place for political protests and civic events.  In the spring of 1968, it was home to a shanty town known as “Resurrection City,” which was erected by protesters affiliated with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Poor People’s Campaign.”  In the wake of King’s assassination on April 4, 1968, the encampment ultimately proved unsuccessful, and the inhabitants of the tent city were dispersed within the next couple of months.

Years later, beginning in October of 2011, it was also one the sites in D.C. which was temporarily home for a group which called itself Occupy Washington D.C., which was connected to the Occupy D.C. movement, encamped at McPherson Square, and to the Occupy Wall Street and broader Occupy movements that sprung up across the United States throughout the fall of that year.  However, by December, the movement’s presence at Freedom Plaza was nearing its end.  The two original organizers of the Freedom Plaza occupation divorced themselves from the occupation, and the “exploding” rat population around the camps at Freedom Plaza and McPherson Square was described by D.C. Department of Health director Mohammad Akhter as “no different than refugee camps.”

Freedom Plaza is one of those places in D.C. that many people have already been to but never really noticed.  Unique among the city’s plazas and parks, it is worth a long enough visit to appreciate its subtlety and details.

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Memorial Statue of Mahatma Gandhi

In a city that is home to an abundance of memorials, including a large number which honor our country’s military figures and war heroes, the memorial on Massachusetts Avenue between Q and 21st Streets in northwest D.C. (MAP) stands out as different. It is different because the bronze statue in the small park in the DuPont Circle neighborhood honors the leader of a foreign independence movement who promoted strict nonviolence.

The memorial to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi stands across the street from the Embassy of India, and was presented to the city as a gift from the people of India and the Indian-American community. The figure stands nine feet tall, is perched atop a granite base, and is surrounded by Gandhi quotations carved into granite.

After numerous non-violent demonstrations, fasts, and boycotts, as well as several periods of imprisonment, Gandhi eventually led his native India to independence from British rule through his philosophy of non-violent confrontation. However, despite seeking a unified India, the two independent states of India and Pakistan were instead created and Gandhi was greatly distressed by the partition. Soon afterward bloody violence broke out between Hindus and Muslims in India. In an effort to end India’s religious strife, Gandhi resorted to fasts and visits to the troubled areas. He was on one such vigil in New Delhi when a Hindu extremist who objected to Gandhi’s tolerance for the Muslims, fatally shot him.

In India Gandhi is recognized as the Father of the Nation, and his birthday is celebrated as a national holiday. Known as Mahatma, or “the great soul,” during his lifetime, Gandhi’s persuasive methods of civil disobedience influenced leaders of civil rights movements around the world, especially Martin Luther King Jr.  Albert Einstein once wrote, “Generations to come, it may be, will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth”.

Gandhi is perhaps one of the best known political leaders in the world, but here are some lesser known facts about him. He married his wife when they were both 13 years old. Then after having a number of children, he informed his wife that he planned to follow the Hindu practice of brahmacharya, which meant going celibate. They stayed married anyway, until her death in 1944. Despite being a lawyer, he was terrified of public speaking. Gandhi did not get his start as an activist in India. He began his legacy as an activist in South Africa, where he had moved when he was unable to find employment in India. Gandhi was pen pals with the Russian author Leo Tolstoy. And he had a set of false teeth, which he carried in a fold of his loin cloth. He put them in his mouth only when he wanted to eat. After his meal, he took them out, washed them and put them back in his loin cloth again.

Another little-known fact about Gandhi is that he often rode a bicycle, as a means of transportation to commute to work in his younger days, as well as for exercise and enjoyment in his later years. The great protestor and crusader even took on causes pertaining to cycling, such as when he wrote about and protested against a bike licensing law aimed at African natives in Johannesburg. So he was not just a great advocate for the Indian people, he was an advocate for cycling as well.

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