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Etched in Stone

When Carrie and I were growing up, our Grandma Johanning (Grandpa got credit too) gave us books for Christmas and birthdays. Sometimes we got magazine subscriptions but in those early years, I remember books.

I have clear memories of big and bulky hardcovers from National Geographic, many of which are still on the bookcase in Mom’s spare bedroom. Some of them came with thick world maps that of course, that are now likely considered relics. National Geographic publications always had beautiful pictures and detailed text; whether it was a book on American History or World Geography, we loved them and of course, we loved Grandma.

So when Bryant asked me for a book on Koalas, I went to the National Geographic website. (And yes Carrie – I know he could have just ‘gone to the library’ but ‘the best aunt ever’ BUYS. She does not rent). I was also able to find a book or two on flamingoes, which as it turns out is Nik’s favorite animal/bird. (I thought her favorite was a make believe pink penguin or pink fox called ‘foxy roxy.’ I was wrong).

It would not be a stretch then to learn that while shopping for the children, I found a gift for yours truly. “Etched in Stone: Enduring Words From Our Nation’s Monuments” is a collection of almost 50 national monuments, each of which memorializing a historic event, specific American values or serving as a reminder of past mistakes and continued encouragement to pursue our ideals.

The words etched in stone were spoken by great leaders and ordinary citizens. They were spoken during times of trial and tribulation and during great prosperity and victory. Some were spoken after great tragedy and injustice. But they are all eloquent and when read, require the reader to reflect on their meaning.

Many of these monuments are in Washington DC and thanks to my Aunt Sondra, I’ve been fortunate to visit many – several times. I have many favorites. From the FDR memorial:

“They who seek to establish systems of government based on the regimentation of all human beings by a handful of individual rulers….call this a new order. It is not new and it is not order.”

This was taken from a speech at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner in March 1941. He was obviously speaking to the rise of totalitarian and despotic regimes around the world and the danger they posed to the free world.

My absolute favorite is this:

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little,” spoken during FDR’s second inaugural on January 20, 1937. The United States and the world were in the deepest of Depression, one not seen in decades.

The memorials in this book are all punctuated by the words etched in stone. They are prophetic and thought provoking. But lest you believe that all of our monuments are a testament to our successes, there are plenty of memorials that speak to a time when we fell far short of our ideals.

There is the Slavery Monument in Savannah, Georgia, located near the riverfront where the first slaves were disembarked in Georgia. Maya Angelou provided the words:

“We were stolen, sold and brought together from the African continent. We got on the slave ships together. We lay back to belly in the holds of the slave ships in each others’ excrement and urine together, sometimes died together, and our lifeless bodies thrown overboard together. Today, we are standing up together, with faith and even some joy.”

The monument itself is a modern black family with broken chains fallen at their feet.
There are more. Angel Island Immigration Station in San Francisco – the Ellis Island of the West Coast – where we unwelcomed hundreds of thousands of Chinese immigrants, detaining them in horrible living conditions until immigration officers were comfortable letting them leave.

The Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial in Duluth Minnesota, commemorating the 1920 lynching of three innocent black men who had been arrested and were being held as suspects in the rape of a white woman.

“An event has happened upon which it is difficult to speak and impossible to remain silent,” Edmund Burke.

The Blacklist Sculpture Garden in LA memorializing the real witch hunt during the Cold War in which red hunters in Congress accused any and all opponents as Communists. This included Hollywood.

“Only an act can be a crime, never an idea,” Ring Lardner, Jr.

Finally – the words we all need place front and center in our daily lives is the following:

“They came first for the communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.
And then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.” Rev. Martin Niemoller.

We have all heard this quote. It is found in the New England Holocaust Memorial in Boston and its meaning and intent are clear and timeless.

These national memorials and parks are there for a reason. The United States spends a lot of money to preserve our history – both the good and the bad. So take your kids to one. Make them learn something about the memorial and what it is designed to remember. And then have a conversation about what the words mean and what they (and you) can do to live up to the values these monuments are meant to memorialize.

Etched in Stone

Amy, from the Facebook Archives

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