After the AFS BoF and a quick lunch, we headed back over, taking a cab in deference to Brian Sebby (who'd been ill recently). We got our tickets, and I started walking through the exhibit in the visitors center. I started walking through from the "beginning", and by the time we needed to go across for our tour, I was somewhat emotionally charged.
We crossed the street to the fire station, and as we did, the first person I'd seen asking for money did so. Very talkative. I gave him a slug of change and went on my way. It's not characteristic for me to do so, but I did anyway.
I was initially slightly taken aback when the tour guide came into the fire station. He was white. (As it happened, he was also blind, but that's not readily apparent from across a room; His guide animal was hidden from my sight when he summoned us forward for the tour). It seemed he was just one of the people working there, and really it's fine. I just had momentary visions of blackface from older days. Anyway, he led us through the house where King was born, and did a fine job of describing it. Realistically, it's just a house, and the neighborhood, even when it was the richest black neighborhood in the country, was just a neighborhood. It's useful to see where King grew up, but not the important thing to take away.
We returned to the visitors center. I viewed the remainder of the exhibit. One thing which hit very hard was a film of the pallbearers carrying King's casket through the streets, set to a speech he'd given of how he tried to live his life in a way which was good and just. I cried. I was withdrawn when we crossed the street to visit his tomb and the eternal flame that burns there, and I didn't have much to say on the way back, including to the second person who walked along for a block and asked for money; He got the remainder of my pocket change.
5 years before I was born, this theoretically civilized country was home to this man, and then he was gone, by another man's hand. Why? Because he stood up for what was right. He was not "merely" bent on setting racial injustice right (as if that's something to belittle); He was moving against poverty, war... and for that, he paid the ultimate penalty. Much as I think Carter might have made more progress using the good offices of the U.S. President toward peace between Israel and Palestine had he been re-elected, I have strong feelings that continued racial inequity and a growing gap between rich and poor might not have been so pronounced under King's continued non-violent war against injustice.
So, if during my parents' lives, this is where we stood, this is how close we were, and we lost it, where are we now? I'm not sure, but I have grave concerns, and the implication I've taken away from this is that fighting for what's right is probably a good way to shorten one's life span considerably.