Baumgartner Vaughan: MLK finally; now the women

Jul. 12, 2014 @ 04:30 PM

When the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial was dedicated a few years ago, I covered the Durham angle by riding along on a Durham NAACP bus of people going to the ceremony. The group was amidst the hundreds of thousands at the ceremony, but didn’t see the memorial except from quite a distance. It was time to go before the memorial was opened to the public. The feeling on the bus on the way home wasn’t one of too much disappointment, though, because it was more about the historic moment than the historic monument. There was time to go again.

This month, on the Fourth of July, I saw the MLK Memorial myself up close for the first time. The statue of King is much taller than I expected. Dozens of people took turns having their picture taken with it. It was a busy day, just hours before the fireworks.

My son, 6, waved his little U.S. flag around and said if he was allowed to climb the monument, he’d put the flag in King’s folded arms. He asked what the rolled up paper was in King’s hand. I had forgotten the symbolism, so I told him it was probably a speech or a sermon because he gave a lot of those. With a sermon, I said, you usually just use notes and say the rest of what comes to mind at the time. Like the time someone said, “Tell them about the dream, Martin.”

July is the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. For many people, 50 years ago wasn’t so long ago. Emotions of today are rooted in experiences of yesterday. If you weren’t part of it, there are a lot of ways to learn about the era.

CNN has been broadcasting a series called “The Sixties,” and the civil rights episode includes familiar national faces as well as one well-known here in Durham. Floyd McKissick Sr., patriarch of the family known well here for being the driving force behind the desegregation of Durham Public Schools, appears twice in the episode. In one clip, he’s sitting next to King and Stokely Carmichael, who by that time had different views on how best to pursue freedom.

I like that my child is growing up in a time when an African American civil rights leader has a monument with the same prominence as U.S. presidents. What I did notice, however, unfortunately, is that there are no women. Oh, the women are there in lesser roles, like Eleanor Roosevelt at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial. There are other monuments to women and with women, but none as prominent as King and the presidents. Where is the Rosa Parks National Monument on the National Mall? The Susan B. Anthony? The Fannie Lou Hamer? I know these women are recognized in various places – Parks and Anthony inside the Capitol -- but none are the subject of a can’t-miss-it monument in America’s front yard. The time has come. It’s past time, really.

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan may be reached at or 919-419-6563. Follow on Twitter: @dawnbvaughan