South Park Bridge: The Table of the Brotherhood of Man, The Real Military Road, and a little dream of my own

I have been walking alone down a lonely old military road.  This morning I found I had some company.  I am glad to have his companionship.  Many others have appreciated this road, and fought for it, within a quiet little Berg called South Park.  It has been a lonely and isolated place for them, and they have struggled to protect it for much, much, much longer than I have.  I am a builder by nature, and not a destroyer, and was shocked to see a beautiful, useful bridge was about to be torn down.  There seems to be some momentum towards doing the right thing, so I am going to sit down on a park bench, and watch the River.  I would like to share something with you, a little dream that I have, if you have the time.

Their was a man called Reverend Martin Luther King Jr..  He was a holy man, with a vision and a purpose.  He lived in a divided society, that seemingly could not be bridged.  He thought long and hard about this situation.  He knew all men had been created equal, by a loving God.  But they couldn’t seem to get along.  One side wanted all the benefits of the city for themselves.  The other side received little.  He wanted to bridge this gap, but couldn’t figure out how.  He thought long and hard about it.  He was surrounded by people who had immigrated from Ireland, but had long before that, lived in Scotland.

The Scottish people themselves had suffered under the divisions and privations of the English.  Life was hard and they were poor.  And they were going to stay poor.  The English would make sure of that.  There was an empire to be run, and all roads led to the doghouse; the English doghouse.  It wasn’t that the Scots didn’t have oppurtunity, just that the oppurtunity would have to be elsewhere.  Serving a useful purpose for the English empire.

John Knox took pity on his People and organized them.  He (and others) organized into small groups called synods.  Synods were composed of churches.  The churches would come together once or twice a year, and celebrate communion.  They would set a long table alongside a river, and set down to feast, worship God, listen to sermons, sing hymns, play and tell stories.  They had a lot of games they liked to play.  Although it was quickly becoming a hard working and industrious society, they took the time to get together.  At a common table they would sit.  When at the table they were all equals.  Elite and Pauper, skilled and unskilled, tradesman and farmer, all were equal for one short time, while at this table.  As they relaxed, a change would come over there behavior and being.  Stoginess would unwind, sharp faces would relax into smiles.  Constricted words would slip into long winded, animated stories filled with laughter.  Friendly elbows would be thrown, jokes told, family affairs caught up on, by relatives separated by distance.

People don’t change all that much over years, decades and centuries.  Old habits continue, from father to son, sometimes not even spoken.  Habits become cultures.  The ritual may alter slightly, or even a lot, but traces and signposts of it remain.  I believe The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., son of the Reverend Martin Luther King Sr., saw something one day.  It could have been at a park, or alongside a river, or a hill above a river.  I think this might have happened on a slight knoll above a river.  He was sitting on the far side of the river with his wife, having a picnic.  He was gazing across the river at the gathering of a clan (No K’s).  He observed them sit down at a table.  He ate his sandwich, or whatever, and saw a change come over the men.  It made a strong impression on his mind, and started him to thinking, or it filled a slot in his mind that waited for an answer.  I don’t know.  But many men travel similar pathways, and can relate to the signs they see along the way.

I believe he set that table into one of his speeches.  He took that imagery and spoke to the people of Washington, and set forth his cause.    In French the word convince is convainque, or to conquer with.  The conquering being done with words.  He was a sort of Progressive I suppose.  Seattle is a progressive City, laid out on a progressive network of roads.  The very idea of respecting beauty and truth was imprinted into our civic landscape.  We had a progressive Republican as a City Engineer, a Scots-Irishman and a Presbyterian.   He was a brilliant man, that had the evidence of a terrible Civil War all around him.  He wished that this war would never happen again, but that the country still had a long way to go.  He was a man not afraid of hard work.  He built the truth into the City, along with the Olmstead Brothers.  He was a hard and firm man, not easy to change his ideas once they were fixed.  Their is a Scots-Irish proverb that goes, ‘Lord grant me that I may always be right, for thou knowest I am hard to bend’.  R H Thomsen had his ideas, but he was no fool.  He knew how people were.  His motto was, “in politics I go hunting with a rifle, not a shotgun.  Real Progressives ask, they don’t force.  They separate issues carefully, and use their rifle judicially (no, I am not speaking about a real rifle).  The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. used the imagery of a Table of the Brotherhood of Man.  Dr. King knew the hardness of men’s souls, and he tried to break through to them with an idea that they were already familiar with.  He tried to convince them with words.

Thomsen’s first task was to build an avenue and a bridge to the breadbasket of the City; South Park.  This avenue was called Grant avenue.  There was already a bridge on 14th Ave., built by the military and completed in 1873.  This bridge crossed at 7th ave., and went by a park, or an old military base, I don’t know which, yet.  It continued through town and up a hill, paralleling the old military road.  It passes by what is now the West side of the Sea-Tac airport.  It was a wise road.  It could still be used today, and parts of it are.  McGinn is a old Irish name, and old pathways run through his heart, whether he knows it or not.  A freeway runs right alongside 7th Ave. (now called 8th) today.  This road could be useful for foot, bicycle, or car.

At one time, you could cross over what is now the Airport and reach the old Military Road.  Travelling down this road, you would enter a peaceful farming valley, with a wild river that swings back and forth from valley edge to valley edge.  Japanese and Italian farmers worked this valley peacefully.  On the north end, Scots and Irish worked together co-operatively in small industry.  They had put their bitter past aside and learned to work together to build a City.  What would become in future years a ‘City Beautiful’.  This was a movement familiar in both Chicago and Detroit.  Seattle had  a lot of immigrants from Detroit.  Continuing down the road you reach an old wooden bridge.  This is where the federal road met the City.  It was a crucial junction.  The bridge has since been move to point at 16th Ave..  Presently a little strip of the road remains, covered in bricks, fired at the old McCallister plant up north by Boeing’s Plant #1.  There is a little nook between the road and the bridge.   This section  has real possibilities in the present, as does the existing bridge.

What I propose, is for the People of the City, to set a table down on it this coming Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, and for the leaders to set aside their differences and have comfortable conversation.  Along the remainder of the road the people can gather.  At one table, continuous and equal.  And discuss the future of the City, and about making South Park an equal partner.

“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”


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