Thank you, Martin.
So, today is Martin's birthday. And I'm glad this country acknowledges it.
But his birthday always brings to mind so clearly to me the first week that he wasn't. It was beautiful weather in D.C. that week. There was a Forsythia in bloom at my back door, and I spent the whole week digging it out, to replace it with a Mock Orange. I had a radio on the porch listening to the news of the riots as I sweated, disentangling the Forsythia's roots from around the construction junk the builders had buried next to the house.
My neighbor across the street with her doors locked was calling frequently, convinced that the rioters were headed our way. (Right, all the women in the neighborhood had to drive to the bus stop to pick up their maids ~~ was she expecting them to take taxis out from DeeCee just to get our little chicken sh!t ghetto?)
As I sweated, dug and pulled, and the sky was blue and beautiful, and 7th street burned and burned, I recall feeling so hopeful. At last they were angry, and standing up!
When I first came East, I worked in the personnel records dept of Hot Shoppes/Marriott. We had thousands of employees in D.C. mostly cooks, busboys, dishwashers. They bought furniture on credit from the stores on 7th Street. Whole house suites. The terms were very easy, the furniture crappy. But the monthly payments were possible even on a busboy's salary. The interest, outrageous, but at least you had a couch to sit on, a table to eat on, and a bed to sleep on -- for a year or two, until it fell apart. Then generally, they stopped paying. And went down the street to buy another set from another store. The owners didn't much care, D.C. had a really good garnishee law. The buyers were sometimes paying for two or three deceased suites as well as the currently useable one. Every time I'd filed another garnisheeing notice, I'd felt outraged. They were paying double or triple what the junk was worth in the first place. And yet I could see no way out for them, then. No one else would give them credit. They were doing what they could. But if I were angry, just standing helplessly by, how much more angry must they be?
And now, 7th Street was being burned! One could see the smoke from the burning city even from Maryland.
I pulled several bushels of construction junk from that hole, and dragged it to the curb. I planted the Mock Orange with much new dirt, and manure, and hope. And it flourished. And I always think of that week as the beginning, though I know it began earlier, with a man who would not have approved of the riots, but who had given the heart and the hope into the making of them and heart and hope did not end when he did. . . .
Thank you Martin.
This is a repost of a blog I posted on the Howard Dean blog in 2005