Return to D.C. Eases Heartbreak of First Visit

Howard University News Service

Karen Anderson was relaxing in the cool pool water of her Washington, D.C., hotel with her eighth grade classmates when she got the word: The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated.

She was 13, and she could hardly believe the news her friend rushed to deliver.

Now 53, Anderson recalled the moment clearly, she said. “I said, ‘Stop playing.’ ” She said ‘I’m not playing.’ “

As the city erupted in violence for two days in 1968, Anderson was forced to stay in her hotel room. It was the first time she had been in the nation’s capital, and she returned to her home south of St. Louis with her spirits low.

Karen Anderson, now a pastor and still living in St. Louis, returned to Washington this week for the first time since her childhood visit. She drove through two winter storms in Ohio and Pennsylvania to be here for the inauguration of President Barack Obama.

While she was traveling, she learned that a family friend had died. She said she considered returning home, but discarded the idea.

“It’s worth it just being here,” she said.

Obama’s election, she said, has changed reality for her and for the nation’s children.

“When I told my children they could be anything they wanted to be, I sometimes felt that I was lying,” Anderson said. “I feel like I never lied to my children.”

Although she marks his win a victory for social change, she said the fight is not over.

“I remember in the civil rights era, my parents couldn’t go everywhere they wanted, and now I feel that not only my kids, but my grandkids can be anything they want to be,” she said. “I don’t know if we’ll ever fulfill the dream because the dream is too inclusive, too huge, but it is progress toward where we want to go.”