Wonderful memorial
The Virginia Gazette, James City, November 6, 2011
By David George Ball, James City 

I decided to attend the dedication of the memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington. He had been my guest for three days in January 1959 when I was a student at Yale. In order to avoid the congestion in the center of the capital I drove to Centerville, to spend the night with the family of my sister-in-law. At eight
the next morning she dropped me off at the Metro station in Vienna. Soon the train was packed. I followed the crowd up the escalator at the Smithsonian and was surprised to find myself greeted by dozens of young men selling Martin Luther King T-shirts.

My companions from the Metro seemed to know exactly where they were going so I just tagged along. As we chatted in a friendly way I gradually realized I was almost the only white person there. It was a glorious blue sky morning. At the entrance to the ceremony someone handed out free baseball hats and before long the audience became a sea of white caps. Many of the speakers quoted a verse in the Bible: “This is a day that the Lord hath made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” In the distance behind the stage and two large screens I could see the stone figure of Dr. King staring out over the water of the Tidal Basin. I was already familiar with the thoughtful and resolute expression on his face. That was how he had looked in Woolsey Hall at Yale when he spoke at a lecture series I had organized.

The speakers included his children and many civil rights leaders. Most of them invoked his principles of social justice. His daughter, Bernice, was the most political. She said, “We should never adjust to one percent of the people controlling forty percent of the wealth.” President Obama, who has described himself as a beneficiary of the civil rights movement, spoke of Dr. King’s struggles and setbacks. He maintained that King would want us to assume the best in each other rather than the worst. He insisted that much remained to be done. It sounded like a campaign speech. The audience responded with “Four more years! Four more years!” I wondered what Martin Luther King Jr. would have to say to us today. I feel confident that as a preacher he would remind us that we are all God’s children. He would rail against economic injustice. And he would urge us to fight for justice and opportunity, but always without violence.

David George Ball of James City received his bachelor’s degree from Yale in 1960 and his law degree from Columbia University in 1964. He served as assistant secretary of Labor 1989-93. His book, “A Marked Heart,” is available at Amazon.com.