Local Commentary

Our Man In Arlington

Two significant events in Arlington last weekend celebrated the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. and renewed the fight for his dream of real and meaningful equality among the races.

Sunday evening, the county sponsored its 39th Annual Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the County’s Thomas Jefferson Theater.

As we filled the theater, we were treated to a full screen presentation of old videos of people gathering for the remarkable 1963 march on Washington, an event many of us older Arlingtonians remember almost as if it were yesterday.

The basic thrust of the program was to announce the winners of the 2008 Dr. Martin Luther King Essay Contest sponsored by Arlington’s school system. The students were to complete “If Dr. King were here today, I would say ….”

The results were excellent, and the readings by the male and female first place winners from high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools were moving and challenging. And when all of the winners lined up on stage, their diversity was notable. While a majority was African-American, we saw Latinos, Vietnamese – you name it. And in the middle was a strikingly blond third-grader who was having the time of his life. This is one of the many reasons I love Arlington.

The music and dance were provided brilliantly by the Mt. Zion Baptist Church, providing a tantalizing lead-in to Monday’s Interfaith Worship Service Celebration at the Mount Zion Baptist Church in South Arlington.

The Monday service has been jointly sponsored by Mount Zion, the Unitarian-Universalist Church of Arlington, and Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church for at least ten years. The service grows out of a partnership of the churches in racial and social issues going back more than fifty years to the intense segregation battles fought in Arlington when it appeared for a while that Virginia might close its entire K-12 system rather than bow to Brown vs. The Board of Education.

These and other churches and community organizations were leaders in the successful battle to prevent that from happening and to peacefully integrate Arlington’s schools.

The service opened with a processional with all of us singing the powerful hymn “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” It closed with the even more powerful “We Shall Overcome.” There wasn’t a dry eye in the house, at least my eyes weren’t.

In between, we experienced a very powerful service with the choirs from all three churches singing at there best and most heartfelt – often with all of us singing along, while standing and swaying with the music. The three lead ministers, Rev. Michael McGee from the UU church, Father Joseph Nagle from Queen of Peace, and, spectacularly, Dr. Leonard Smith from Mt. Zion, gave excellent, moving and heartfelt homilies, each one of which had us standing and cheering.

To the extent that there was a common theme it was that in spite of notable success, Martin Luther King’s dream has yet to be completely realized and we must stand together to see that ultimately it becomes reality.

All-in-all, it was a remarkable holiday weekend.