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Sunday, April 16, 2006

Thurgood, Cousin George, and me ...

On our last evening in Washington -- after having visited Arlington Cemetery and Arlington House (home of Gen. Robert E. Lee); the Lee slave quarters (sterile and bereft of signs of the lives endured there); the Kennedy graves with the eternal flame ablaze but oddly lifeless; Anacostia's African American Museum and the Frederick Douglas home; we headed for one of the grandest buildings I'd seen in all of Washington. It was the Justice Thurgood Marshall Building that stands adjacent to Union Station.

This is the building that holds the offices of the Judiciary. From the street it appears not dissimilar to the buildings around it -- institutional white with regularly-shaped windows that pretty much match others nearby. However, once you step into the front of the structure (facing Union Station) this beautiful architectural gem is almost all-glass with an upward-sweeping ground floor atrium that features an indoor bamboo garden with trees reaching at least to the height of the second floor where all of the offices are visible through floor-to-ceiling glass walls -- from entry-level. In this huge reception area there is only the security desk; the garden area with its stone path winding gracefully through the giant bamboo -- and a magnificent iconic bronze bust of Justice Marshall.

Prior to our visit, I knew nothing about this beautiful edifice, and wondered whether my ignorance is widely-shared among people of color?

I thought then about an old copy of Ebony magazine back home in my files; a picture of mother's (and my) cousin George Allen, former president of Southern University, in full academic regalia standing next to his close friend and colleague, none other than Thurgood Marshall. That picture must have been taken during Justice Marshall's time on the Supreme Court bench. It was taken at commencement exercises. This was George Allen, son of Uncle Sam and Aunt Marie Allen -- nephew and namesake of my grandfather, Papa George.

I remembered then that I'd forgotten to take this George along to the Lincoln memorial the night before; but more than made up for it by visiting with Thurgood here at his building -- bringing along best regards from the family ... . (smile).

The surreal has by now become the norm in this wild and wonderful adventure ... .

( NPS's Martha Lee; we could never have done it without your guidance and companionship. Thank you!)


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