Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - June 9, 2017

Washington's wonders

I’ve visited our nation’s capital a few times over the years, and each time, I’ve been amazed by its power to inspire awe in me.

Oldest daughter Mariya and I were there in May to attend my niece’s graduation from law school. We spent the weekend with family and then ventured out on our own to do some sightseeing.

Our first stop was the Newseum, which “promotes, explains and defends free expression and the five freedoms of the First Amendment: religion, speech, press, assembly and petition.”

Located on Pennsylvania Avenue between the Capitol and the White House, the Newseum is a modern building with seven levels of interactive exhibits. We didn’t have enough time to see everything, so we concentrated on a few: the Pulitzer Prize Photographs Gallery, which has every Pulitzer-Prize-winning entry back to 1942; the Berlin Wall Gallery, which has one of the largest pieces of the original wall outside of Germany; Today’s Front Pages Gallery, featuring newspaper front pages from around the world; and “Louder than Words: Rock, Power and Politics,” a study of the influence of rock and roll on civil rights, the women’s movement, gender equality and war.

Since I’m a journalist, I’ve been wanting to see this museum since it opened in 2008. The First Amendment is carved into the front of the building, and other quotes related to journalism and freedom of expression are found throughout.

One of my favorites was by Rudyard Kipling:

I keep six honest serving men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

Those are the questions I ask my students to answer when they’re writing articles in my beginning writing class.

Among items displayed in this exhibit were the hat worn by Aretha Franklin at President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration, an electric guitar Joni Mitchell bought in 1979, and the electric guitar played by John Lennon for the Beatles’ “Revolver” album and for the group’s final public performance.

It also had the raw meat dress worn by Lady Gaga at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards. She was criticized for wearing it, but Gaga said, “If we don’t stand up for what we believe in and if we don’t fight for our rights, pretty soon we’re going to have as much rights as the meat on our bones. And I am not a piece of meat.”

Whether one agrees or not, it caused enough of a stir that after the MTV event, the dress was taken to a taxidermist, where it was chemically treated, placed on a body form to dry and dyed red to match its original color.

We then walked a few blocks to the National Archives Museum. Our main focus was to see the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom, where the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights are housed. The lighting in the rotunda is low and the temperature is cool to protect our country’s founding documents for future generations to see. Groups of school children excitedly gathered around the documents, which were protected by special glass. We squeezed in where there were gaps to catch a glimpse before the building closed at 5:30.

After, we walked to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, passing the new Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture, the Washington Monument and the District of Columbia War Memorial, built to honor the 26,000 Washingtonians who served in World War I. We stopped at the World War II Memorial so I could show Mariya where my Uncle Stan served in that war.

The MLK memorial covers four acres, but its most impressive feature is the Stone of Hope, a granite block with a statue of King carved into one side. The quote - “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope” - is carved into its base. The quote comes from King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Other King quotes are engraved in the stone walls along the memorial’s perimeter. Among my favorites, written by King from his Birmingham, Alabama jail cell in April 1963, was: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

I told Mariya that I could “hear” King speak even as I read the quote on the wall.

A youngster, seated in front of another quote, was writing it down in his notebook: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

By the end of the day, we had seen several pieces of our nation’s history - from its Declaration of Independence to present-day symbols of its democratic values. And once again, I had been inspired.

But my feet? Well, not so much. They were just happy when we reached the Metro and I unburdened them after our six-plus mile trek. Yet, in balance, it had been a very good day.

Top: Mariya and Gloria at the World War II memorial; bottom: youngster copying the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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