23 January 2011


I took the virtual tour of the M.L. King National Memorial using this link (<http://www.mlkmemorial.org>). I am quite pleased and thankful that the nation chose to honor M.L. King with a major memorial. It is a good mark on our national character. Obviously, most likely there are significant remnants of Americans who think the honor is unjustified. Dr. King's work really must go on.

The representation of the cleaved Mountain of Despair leading to the Stone of Hope (obviously symbolically cut from the middle of the Mountain) with Dr. King emerging (with hope!) from its interior is symbolism at its finest.

I notice that the four acres are being planted with cherry trees. I wonder why? Must be some stated reason, perhaps a symbolic one. I can foresee that it will be a moving experience to walk through the cleaved mountain and around the wall reading Dr. King's quotes when the cherry blossoms afford an ambiance of springtime renewal and hope. That would be a personal experience of historic significance, perhaps a moving moment of sharing the vision of Dr. King's Dream.

The investigation of my family history entered unexpected territory when my brother Joseph, the family-tree enthusiast, found bills of sale and other documents in several courthouses attesting to my mother's two sets of grandparents as rather large slaveholders (with "large" acknowledged as beginning in the range of 30). This means that my grandfather Durham, born 1866 (yes!), in Kentucky, grew up with former slaves. Something similar is true of my grandmother Durham (nee Stowers), although she was 22 years younger than he. My mother's generation remembers former slaves visiting the house for various reasons, including handouts, well after World War I. That side of the family, with a great deal of formal education, became the Wilsonian Democrats (grandfather Durham was a member of the Electoral College delegation from Kentucky) and lifelong supporters of that Party--pro-Wilson, FDR, Truman, Stevenson, et al.

In stark contrast, my father's family was poor half-Cherokee dirt farmers and coal miners, nearly parent-less and more destitute than most during the Depression (people who knew them have confirmed their sad state). Yet, he and both siblings managed to graduate from college (ca. 1936-38) and were celebrated locally and statewide as rather brilliant journalists. They also tended toward blatant racism and conservative Dixiecrat politics--my father in the extreme.

The point of this account is that the descendants of slaveholders became liberal activists (I have not recounted any of those activities) and teachers (I am a fourth-generation teacher); while the dirt-poor (and mixed race), although formally educated, became their opposites politically and ideologically.

A panoptic view of the history of my family sees that it recapitulates American history: the cleaving of a mountain of despair leading to at least a hillock of hope. Nothing, however, changes the facts of the past--except the interpretation of their meaning.

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