ABRAHAM, MARTIN & JOHN
Has anybody here seen my old friend Martin?
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
He freed a lot of people
But it seems the good die young
But I just looked around and he’s gone
Didn’t you love the things that they stood for?
Didn’t they try to find some good for you and me?
And we’ll be free
Someday soon, it’s gonna be
In 1968 I was in Year 11 in my Sydney school and the most radical thing I ever did was to occasionally disobey the directives of my teachers to be quiet and get on with my study. Outside of school, my world was dominated by songs on the radio and one of them was, ‘Abraham, Martin and John’ by the American pop singer, Dion DiMucci. It was written hurriedly by songwriter Dick Holler in the hours after he had heard that the third significant figure in the civil rights movement of the 1960s in the USA, Bobby Kennedy had been assassinated. Although I was aware of the sadness of the loss of three major leaders in the United States and the song itself conveyed the immense sadness of the writer, I just thought it was a good song! Its been a long life of learning since that time and my visit to Washington and the Martin Luther King Memorial was a great time to reflect on his significance and the huge social steps both the USA and Australia has taken in the last fifty years.
Martin Luther Memorial in Washington
Martin Luther King’s Memorial is situated looking out over the Tidal Basin connected to the Potamac River in Washington. His memorial is in great company between the Lincoln Memorial and the huge monument to Franklin Delanore Roosevelt. It was meant to be dedicated on August 28th 2011 to celebrate the 48th anniversary of the “I have a Dream” speech but Hurricane Irene forced it to be held the following weekend. It consists of two huge scuilptures carved from granite; the first structure symbolising the ‘Stone of Hope,’ a concept from the 1963 “I have a Dream” speech; “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope”. The second major structure in the memorial is the sculpture of Martin Luther King himself. The memorial is flanked by a wall on which some famous extracts from speeches by Martin Luther King are placed…
From the sculpture of Martin Luther King, it is a short stroll down to the edge of the tidal basin, giving a view to the right across the basin to the Jefferson Memorial and to the left, the soaring obelisk that is the Washington Monument.
Martin Luther King in Chicago
After visiting Washington, our next stop was a three- day visit to Chicago. While there, we were lucky enough to spend some time in the Chicago History Museum. This visit was complementary to our time in Washington as the two exhibitions we spent most time in at this museum were dedicated to Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King. Abraham Lincoln was a frequent visitor to Chicago as it became his political headquarters during his rise to prominence.
The Martin Luther King exhibition was called, Remembering Dr. King: 1929–1968. It was housed in a winding gallery that contained 35 large photographs highlighting key events in his Civil Rights work. The poster above from the museum gives a summary of King’s association with Chicago.
For those interested in getting a reminder of the key events of Dr King’s life, below is some ‘snapshots’ taken from information boards in the Chicago History Museum. He was only 39 years old when assassinated. Referencing back to the song that introduced this article (“seems the good die young”), John Francis Kennedy was 46 when he died, Robert Kennedy was 42 and Abraham Lincoln was 56.
A Summary of Martin Luther King’s Life
The significance of Dr King’s reputation in Chicago is illustrated by what happened in the city when Chicagoans heard the news. The History Museum described it as follows.
“In Chicago, reaction began on Friday, April 5, 1968. Rioters overwhelmed police, and the US Army and National Guard were called to restore order. Burning, looting, and gun violence lasted until Monday. When the smoke cleared, at least nine were dead, hundreds had been arrested, and a thousand were left homeless. Long after the rioting ended, evidence of the physical devastation remained, particularly in Austin and Lawndale.”
Appendix 1: Chicago Disasters
Chicago is no stranger to disasters. The most famous disaster was of course the ‘Great Fire of Chicago’ in 1871. However, devastating fires were not uncommon, for example two forebears of the History Museum of Chicago were burnt down; the 1871 fire burnt down the first attempt at a History Museum, the second attempt was burnt down in 1874. However as disasters go, I have rarely seen an account of such a terrible event as the Eastland Disaster of 1915. In the middle of a day that promised so much fun and joy to all involved, everything went so badly wrong. The descriptive poster below comes from the Chicago History Museum.