I don't remember specifically the day of Martin Luther King's assassination, but I have been thinking about the riots in Washington, D. C. which followed it ever since.
The white flight which followed the King riot has decimated the planet, I thought, driving through the endless dairy farms turned to three story "townhomes" (a word which carefully distinguishes them from their urban bros) an hour and a half from downtown D.C. and an hour from the suburban beltway
which facilitated white flight, from my home in Dupont Circle to my cheap storage place in Manassas, VA.
Manassas is the site of the great Civil War battles -- over race, as I recall -- and the far edge of development by one of the major architects of the Republican citadel -- Edge City
-- Til Hazel
. Hazel is still ripping and running zoning and stripping the ancient Virginia countryside of its old trees to plant more three-story garden apartments which look like the Cabrini Green PJs -- these would be two
hours from downtown D.C. and one hour from the Beltway -- much inhabited by hard-working Mexican immigrants. Manassas as Atzlan -- because they don't want to live in downtown D.C. either. Because all the jobs are now at the Beltway and the long-awaited public transport miracle, the subway, stuck to pre-Beltway plans which believed that moving workers from the suburbs to down town and back, in a spokes-of-the-wheel design, rather than around the Beltway where the jobs are, would help solve inner city joblessness.
I wrote a little about guns, and the riots here
, and the whiteness and brownness of the suburbs.
I can't think that I have written here about the successful plan to plant a large obstruction to public gatherings in the Mall, L'Enfant's planned gathering space for the democracy. That would be the World War Two memorial
, kicking around Congress for 70 years until they decided to erect it ASAP after the Million Man March brought scores of thousands of black men to the Mall, which scared everybody from the longest-running asshole political columnist in the universe, Richard Cohen, who pretends that Louis Farrakhan is after him
and that he doesn't piss his pants every time he thinks about it, to the doyennes of public space in D.C.. They saw the WW2 memorial as a way to obstruct any such further gathering on the spot of Martin Luther King's I have a dream
speech. I call the World War Two memorial -- a design channeling of Mussolini architecture at its very worst, completely appropriate for its purpose of preventing any large gathering of black people on the Mall ever again -- the anti-Farrakhan device. The plantation of other crowd control features -- Constitution Gardens
-- in 1976 (trees, ponds, benches) in addition to the erection of the anti-Farrakhan device is one of the most sustained and appalling efforts to privatize public space -- perhaps its apotheosis, given L'Enfant's vision for the Mall -- since Robert Moses, and it is the direct result of the riots which decimated Washington after the death of King.
I did do the gun control petition that spring, as per the Guns
link. I did work for Upward Bound that summer at Howard University -- I was the token white person. One of my students was one of the first Miss Black Americas. She decided to go my college. The last I saw her she was working as a secretary in the State Department.
Stephanie Clark, Miss Black America 1971, entertains the troops in Vietnam
That was the long hot summer
, as I recall, and Resurrection City
was a tent encampment on the Mall. They'd come up to the Howard cafeteria in the incredible early morning heat (96) and humidity (96) for a breakfast of boiling hot grits, margarine, bacon, and yelling at me. My students, middle-class all, had been looters during the riots, and thought little, as none of us did, that the so-called "Riot Corridor" would stay burned out from 1968 to 2000, despite Marion Barry's erecting the new city hall at the epicenter of the riots at 14th and U. I went there and took pictures on the 40th anniversary of the MLK Jr. riots.
April 4, 2008
What it meant was that no black man of my generation was willing to run for president. When Michelle Obama was asked if she was afraid her husband would be assassinated, she said, as a black man, you know, Barack can get shot going to the gas station
. I knew then at least one of them was tough enough to go the distance. Colin Powell, and his wife, who feared he would be assassinated if he ran, was not.
It's why nothing about Tucson has surprised me or made me sad. (Today is not the day for me to cavil with Obama's co-optation of the death of the child, always a rhetorical mistake.) Assassination with a handgun is what every liberal or progressive in this country volunteers for when they run for office. I am still laboring through Taylor Branch's masterpiece on America in the King years
, which in the moral universe will outlive this republic, and pondering the fates of such heroes as James Bevel
and Bob Moses
, who are probably the most courageous people I know. The young man who used to yell at me every morning for breakfast in the smoke-stench ruins of what had once been the capital of the free world reminded me so much of Bevel. He had pigtails and dry grass in his hair from sleeping in the park outside the Lincoln Memorial. I hope he had a good life.
Tucson, son of James Earl Ray, has also persuaded me that racism is the fundamental motivation of the Tea Party, which is why after 40 years of being a registered independent I signed up this year to work for Obama's machine, Organizing for America. I hate them. But it is the right thing.
Power to the people.
Rep. John Lewis, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Coretta King and ? dedicated the I have a dream plaque on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, in 2003 on the 40th anniversary of the speech which helped pass the Civil Rights Act of 1965.
Vale, Martin Luther King.