— Alexander Hamilton
U.S. Secretary of the Treasury
Sometimes Mother Nature just rears back and gives you a kick in the pants like nobody’s business.
Most recently, she did it with a messenger named Irene, a Category 3 hurricane that smacked into the East Coast sometime late Friday and is gradually making her way along the U.S. seaboard — even as you’re reading this — heading for densely populated cities from the Carolinas to New England.
One big town in her path is Washington, D.C., the site where the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial dedication was supposed to have gotten under way at about 11 a.m. today. Some were projecting a crowd of as many as 250,000 people to hear a keynote address by President Barack Obama, and who wanted to be a part of living history — the fitting climax to a vision that began 50 years ago and a dream that Congress launched in 1996.
For visitors’ safety, the painful decision to postpone the commemoration came early Thursday evening.
In our local newspaper world, that’s when bedlam reared its own ugly head.
Call me a newsprint cry baby if you will, but here’s what happened to us when the National Hurricane Center confirmed that Irene’s route would place the dedication crowd in harm’s way, and event organizers faced the unthinkable — delaying the long-awaited observance until later in the year.
It was the correct decision. To help soothe the sudden emptiness among the league of disappointed followers, Harry Johnson, president of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Foundation, offered “ ... We all are saddened by this,” and then he added, “The memorial is going to be there forever.”
Again, he is right on.
But In the meantime, newspapers like ours faced some scurrying.
To help commemorate history in the making, we developed the best laid of plans. No one was thinking “awry,” even when the word “hurricane” crept into water cooler conversations a few days earlier. Boy, did we ever get another lesson in why newspapers are one of the least boring professions in the world ... maybe even the universe. I’m not sure what’s bigger than the universe. If I knew, then I’d say bigger than that.
As I was saying, we can plan. But fate takes care of the rest.
We had already published a news feature on our front page a couple of weeks earlier by giving the King National Memorial dedication a local flare using some Cleveland and Bradley County personalities who were planning to attend. The idea was to make people aware of the dedication, and to prepare for follow-up coverage in Friday’s and today’s editions.
On paper it looked good.
But Irene blew in and you know the rest of the story.
Here’s how it impacted us.
Our editorial for Friday’s edition dedicated to the dedication? Pulled and rewritten.
Our front-page article, the first of two parts, for Friday’s edition? Pulled and rewritten.
Our editorial for today’s edition dedicated to Dr. King? Pulled.
Our front-page article, the second of two parts, for today’s edition? Pulled.
Our (my) personal column for today’s edition? Pulled and rewritten.
Each of these pieces had a direct link to today’s memorial dedication so without the dedication the timing would have been an ill-fit for the articles, editorials and column. At least, for now.
Like the National Memorial Foundation president said, “The memorial is going to be there forever.”
The pieces we pulled will wait for the right day; that being, when the dedication is rescheduled. We’re hearing either September or October. I hope it will be soon because history, and those making it, have awaited this moment for a long, long time. They’ve earned the day. It is theirs. It is ours. It is mankind’s.
The Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial means a little something different to everyone. To today’s younger generation, it might not carry the same weight. To those who grew up during the Civil Rights Movement, the message runs deep ... as it should.
This era served as a crossroads for America.
It swept in winds of change that challenged our comfort zones, but most importantly our thinking.
It forced us to take a good look in the mirror. And if we didn’t like what we saw, it was ours to do something about it. Or not.
Most did. It took time. But most did.
Those were the ‘60s, the best of times and the worst of times.
And the times that healed the hurt of a divided people.