Washington D.C. is known for its monuments. There seems to be a statue, with or without horses, on nearly every circle and intersection. The Mall is lined by monuments to influential leaders of our society. We are in town for the weekend with a friend. We did the circle around the Tidal Basin, then trotted up the Mall to the National Gallery. Along the way, we stopped at several monuments. and caught a few images. As I reflected on three of these, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Washington Monument, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, I thought about how each championed freedom in his time.
From inside the Jefferson Memorial, if you stand behind the statue of Jefferson, and move a bit to the left, eventually the Washington Monument lines up between the columns. While Jefferson may have drafted the Declaration of Independence, General Washington conducted the War for Independence that allows Jefferson’s ideas to take shape in this nation. Jefferson was the idealist, Washington the pragmatist. Jefferson wrote without regard to distinction, “All men created equal”, while Washington realized that English, Irish, Scots, Germans, French, as well as Protestants, Catholics, and Jews all made good soldiers when treated well.
As we walked east on the Mall, I happen to notice two large birds circling on air currents. With careful observation, I saw the flash of white on head and tail. Yes, a male and female bald eagle happen to be soaring toward our view of the tip of the Washington Monument. I was able to get my camera open and on in time to record their flight. Seconds later the they were gone, unnoticed by most tourist near us.
Both leaders had the flaws of their era. They owned slaves while decrying the institution. Neither found solutions to how to finance the nation. Both left successes of their presidencies to be sorted out by later leaders, not always to their intent. Two hundred years later, Martin Luther King, Jr, never a politician, continued to press our society to rectify the shortcomings of our history. He too has his shortcomings, but in the long run our nation is stronger for his sacrifice. His monument rests on the north shore of the Tidal Basin, looking back toward Jefferson, who looks toward Washington. Freedom needs both retrospective and futuristic vision.