suntimes
COMFY 
Weather Updates

Visitors flock to King memorial in D.C. on eve of president’s public swearing-in

Reverend Jesse Jackslays wreath statue civil rights leader MartLuther King Jr. occasiMartLuther King Day MLK Memorial January 20 2013 Washington.

Reverend Jesse Jackson lays a wreath at the statue of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. on the occasion of Martin Luther King Day at the MLK Memorial on January 20, 2013 in Washington. King is best known for his role in the advancement of civil rights using nonviolent civil disobedience. AFP PHOTO/JOE KLAMARJOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images

storyidforme: 43353160
tmspicid: 16037640
fileheaderid: 7214671

Updated: February 22, 2013 6:30AM



WASHINGTON—Visitors from across the country flocked to the Martin Luther King Memorial on the National Mall on the eve of the public swearing-in of President Barack Obama.

For many of the folks who were in town for the inaugural festivities, it was a chance to pay homage to a man whose courageous fight against racial injustice paved the way for the nation’s first black president.

Although it is clearly the president’s weekend, the legacy of Dr. King was on many minds.

“I believe in the dream that Martin Luther King had and I believe our president is trying to say that that dream has come true,” said Earline Franklin of Shorewood.

Franklin of also attended the 2009 Inauguration.

“That is why King’s birthday and Obama’s inauguration happened to be on the same day. It’s another reason why it was so important for me to be here,” she said.

Bessie Leigh of Roseland was also at the 2009 Inauguration, and the dedication of the King Memorial in 2011.

“When we came to the dedication, there wasn’t this many people,” Leigh said surveying the sea of cameras below the massive monument where crowds of amateur photographers were trying, in vain, not to include strangers in their photos.

Franklin made a tough choice in order to be in Washington for the weekend.

“When I realized that the inauguration and King’s birthday was the same day, I cancelled a ski trip so I could be here. I wanted to be part of history. This is a momentous occasion,” Franklin said.

Thanks to the unseasonably warm temperatures, people were all over the mall. The crowds flowed seamlessly between the Lincoln Memorial and the King Monument.

For some, this year’s King Day observance was even more poignant because Obama is being sworn in for a second term.

On Monday, President Obama will pay homage to King’s legacy by using the civil rights leader’s personal bible during the public swearing-in.

Gwen Reese of Memphis, Tenn., stood at the outer edge of the crowd watching as people jockeyed for a position directly in front of the massive King monument.

“My husband and I had plans to come four years ago for the first inauguration and he had to have surgery. His surgery was successful and we just appreciate being here and being part of history,” she told me.

Her husband, Bud Reese, recalled where he was when King was tragically shot at a Memphis hotel in 1968.

“I was on the bus when Martin Luther King was shot. It was the 16 Forest Hill bus and I was heading home, “Reese said.

“I had marched with him a couple of weeks before when there were riots associated with the sanitation strike. People criticized him for leading a black march and going to a white hotel and not patronizing black business,” Reese pointed out.

“When King came back for the next march, he stayed at a black owned motel [the Lorraine Motel] and that was where he was shot.”

A short distance away, Annie Ruth Phillips, also of Memphis, sat on a park bench where she had a clear view of the nation’s capitol.

Phillips was decked out in a coat loaded with Obama campaign buttons.

Her late mother, Katie Harris Sexton, was a civil rights activist in Memphis. A $10 million community center is named in her honor. For people like Phillip’s mother, King’s dream was a far off goal.

Now Phillips can sit on a park bench at the National Mall and feel that she is part of America’s story.

“We have a black man that won a second time around. It was so fabulous. People thought it was a fluke the first time, but the record speaks for itself,” Phillips said.

“Now a black kid can say I would like to be president. I can actually walk in the United States of America and feel like a first-class citizen and not be harassed and judged by the color of my skin,” she said.

Like a guardian angel, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is an affirming presence at this 57th presidential inauguration.



© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit www.suntimesreprints.com. To order a reprint of this article, click here.