The National Mall, The Corps, The Call, The Fort

by William J. Hughes, March 15, 2017

Black lives matter; hands up, don't shoot; the film "Birth Of A Nation"; Trump’s hatred; tickets for the new African-American History Museum on the Mall in Washington DC.

My brother lives in Charlottesville Virginia and is employed as a supervisor and tour guide at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello. My brother Bob now gives a somewhat new slavery tour of Monticello. TJ was a slave owner. All seems most appropriate for our tour of the new National Museum.

I noticed the new museum when I visited the National Capitol Building for the first time; the new museum is not white like all the other "Greek wedding cakes," as our other historical memorials have been described. The new museum had a bronze color and still had construction fences around it.

It's Wednesday, November 9. Donald Trump is President-elect of the United States and we are in Washington DC. You can't tell on the Mall in DC but we can feel it, the three of us — my brother and his friend David who is another tour supervisor at Monticello — all three of us having served in Vietnam. We feel a hollowness, a sadness that our country has come to this, on a day of magnificent storm clouds and co-mingling blue skies, the towering Washington Monument magnificent in the Egyptian significance, stand-aloneness.

Now, up close, the new museum is a bronze, almost Aztec in its ascending architectural structure, a bit of a reminder of the de Young Museum in San Francisco, the museum's exterior latticework reflective of the artistic slave laborers of New Orleans.

Predominantly African-American in a not so steady stream, no longer the crush from the opening weeks; free tickets from online. From out here the museum feels huge.

Inside it is much like the Native American museum, this enormous entry lobby has too much wasted space, but when inside and finally getting your just due, I guess you can tend to overdo it.

Friend David has some time schedule issues — he came down on the train from Charlottesville — yes, a train, imagine that — so we've got just so much time and there are lots of folks already inside. David really wants to try the museum's Cafe, well known for its unique, authentic cuisine. So down the long flight of curving stairs to the history galleries starting with slavery and freedom 1400-1877.

We wait in line, all around is cold and efficient, towering but within the galleries are fine, mood lighting, sorrowful, crowded, muskets and slave ships, millions of humans stolen, enslaved, from the ballast of the Sao Jose, Portuguese slave ship, to the horrors of the "middle passage" and on through the continuing horror, through Thomas Jefferson and his Sally Hemmings to an actual slave cabin (I've heard visitors at Mount Vernon say, "Oh, this wasn't so bad") and onto a Harriet Tubman shawl.

It's all too much for us, each of us when big-time interpretive lives, none of this really news to us, and from other spots you can see the actual Pullman cars, the Tuskegee airmen, their bi-wing training plane, a photo of the crowd at Obama’s inaugural and much much more. It's not like we don't realize we are in a setting of revelations, more like imagining how many citizens are.

I've been to the national Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, in the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King was murdered. I won't go into all the details of one of America's finest museums, but Rosa Parks and her bus line — actual bus, and a re-created Woolworth counter where the crackers roughed up the daring to sit brothers; and a re-created garbage truck from the strike that brought Martin Luther King to Memphis; and a video of and a re-created Selma bridge to walk across, as I once did, so all that we've already seen here has already been seared into me.

My brother and I had a belt busting breakfast in DC at the Founding Farmers — real name — so we just American snack in the museum’s café while friend David does real Creole gumbo. We get a taste. Damn fine enough.

We do promise ourselves a trip back to take it all in.

It's Thursday, November 10, the birthday of the United States Marine Corps, 1775, the Marine Corps is called for by the colonies to fight the British.

Tonight in Wintergreen Resort in Nellysford, Virginia where my brother lives, he and I are attending my first Marine Corps dinner, mostly locals, mostly Vietnam, unknown to me mostly former officers, mostly conservative, mostly blue blazers with the common thread of "semper fi," always faithful, to my antiwar politics so there is little to share with the group that resembles a Republican Congress with a generic birthday message from the Corps Commandant on tape, remembrance of those who fell and those who currently stand guard, one former officer who was actually on the same Hill 55 as myself, although years apart. As one young Marine in dress uniform and one former Marine Lieutenant who served on Iwo Jima! That Iwo Jima! I lead a toast to him and all those South Pacific Marines, adding in my Purple Heart, one of the only in the mud grunts in the room.

The meal is buffet and the US Marine Corps birthday cake is cut with an officer’s Mameluke sword it comes to the core from the Tripoli shores.

Marine Corps hymn and the evening ends. I'm proud and probably won't do it again.

The next day and we have plans, Red Hill, Virginia, Patrick Henry's home — "give me liberty or give me death." We could say that about looking up at Trump.

Red Hill is on the way past Liberty University, Lynchburg Virginia, Jerry Falwell et al. Bow head in sadness.

Red Hill it is way off any payment path, tobacco farms, Baptist churches.

Red Hill ain't no Monticello, but quiet and peaceful, well-kept lawns, small colonial houses and offices and kitchens, only one slave, 17 Patrick Henry children and 77 grandchildren — "Give me a break."

It's all as before in this setting. Would I, we, have had the guts to stand up in a musket line and tell the British to get lost? "Make America great again." Yeah, elect these type of American men.

And speaking of those men, let me add Stony Point New York, the Hudson River Highlands, a British earthen fort, cannons commanding the Hudson River below. If you've ever seen a painting of the Hudson River school, you'll know the area’s breathtaking beauty.

I'm not from Virginia, visiting friends in Kingston, New York up on the Hudson, Stony Point on the way just below West Point.

It's at night 1779, the British know the American Continental Army is up to something, never expecting the Americans would come at night, muskets unloaded, only bayonets. Not a great battle but an in-close bloody one, our ancestors overwhelming the British defenders. "Give me liberty or give me death." Give me, us, the strength to stand up against Trump and all that he represents.

I could go on to my visit to Hyde Park on the Hudson and Franklin D. Roosevelt, but you get the Hudson River Valley school of thought.

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