While studying and interning in Washington D.C., I found myself most in awe of all of the monuments dedicated to people who accomplished what no one thought was possible. In comparison to other countries I have visited, the United States is very big on visual symbolism and using things like monuments to instill feelings of intense national pride and reverence within the individuals who visit them. Although the United States is incredibly diverse in a multitude of various ways, these monuments and other tactics employed in the nation’s capitol help to contribute to a national identity that has the potential of encompassing nearly all Americans.
These three images depict (left:) the Washington Monument in the background of the World War II Memorial, (center:) the inside of the Jefferson Memorial, (right:) the Washington Monument surrounded by American Flags at night.
These monuments all represent important people and moments in American history. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are both founding fathers of this country and their monuments and memorials depict what is considered to be their most important contributions to the nation. Jefferson’s Memorial has text from various writings of his, including the Declaration of Independence, that serve as the basis of our political understanding. The Washington Monument is visible from all around the Washington Mall and it represents the esteemed first president of the nation. It has classical elements, it is tall and elegant, and its central location all serves o emphasize George Washington’s importance. The World War II Memorial incorporates water as well as stone pieces. It features a metal wreath attached to a stone structure for each American territory and it has quotes throughout underlining the importance of the US’s involvement in the war and how the nation was forever changed as a result of it. Monuments like this and the Vietnam War Memorial incorporate tactics used to remind people of the loss of life and suffering as well as honoring the importance of these occurrences and what they meant for the US and the world overall.
It is no secret that the United States of America’s founding and establishment was achieved by way of a war for our independence or that the history of this great nation is marred by institutions such as slavery and segregation and persisting inequalities of race, gender, and class. However, in spite of these awful realities there have been amazing individuals who have continually fought and resisted the status quo to make this country the best it could possibly be for Americans of all backgrounds.
While the Civil War’s main goal was not to free the slaves and establish African Americans as U.S. citizens, that was a very important byproduct of the war which marks this monument as an important one for the long and continuous struggle for civil rights amongst African Americans and other minorities. On the steps of the memorial there is an inscription immortalizing the “I Have a Dream Speech” given by Dr. Martin Luther King at that very location. On the walls of the Lincoln Memorial are the Gettysburg Address and the Emancipation Proclamation and behind Lincoln’s head are the words “IN THIS TEMPLE AS IN THE HEARTS OF THE PEOPLE FOR WHOM HE SAVED THE UNION THE MEMORY OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN IS ENSHRINED FOREVER.”
The image on the left is of the contemplative court in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and it features a quote from Martin Luther King stating, “WE ARE DETERMINED… TO WORK AND FIGHT UNTIL JUSTICE RUNS DOWN LIKE WATER AND RIGHTEOUSNESS LIKE A MIGHTY STREAM.” The image on the right is also from the National Museum of African American History and Culture and features a statue of Thomas Jefferson, recognizing his incredible contributions to the nation, but behind him are blocks representing each of the human beings he enslaved while fighting for his own freedom. Displays such as these represent the changing consciousness of America and the fact that today’s American national identity now includes a recognition of the struggles of disenfranchised peoples and an acknowledgement of the fact that while many great and important things happened thanks to our Founding Fathers during the revolutionary period of this nation’s founding, there were abuses being committed against a people with even less rights and absolutely no representation.
From America’s Founding Fathers fighting against British tyranny and founding these United States to Abraham Lincoln doing everything in his power to save the union and then establish real concrete freedoms for the previously enslaved members of the nation to Martin Luther King marching on Washington and giving his landmark “I Have A Dream Speech” in front of the Lincoln Memorial, this nation’s monuments represent the defiance and persistence that have made the America we live in today a reality. This is something I believe many take for granted in their day-to-day lives but in D.C., if you are to truly take in the history, you will see that every freedom and luxury we have was made available to us by way of the struggle and sacrifice of pioneers who paved the way. I find this to be a powerful sentiment because though great strides have been made, this fight is still not over and I am forever inspired by the individuals whose shoulder my peers and I now stand on as we all continue to make this country the best it can be for all Americans.