“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Martin Luther King Jr.
Over the Martin Luther King holiday, I found myself in Oklahoma City. My family and I visited the memorial for the 1995 bombing of the Federal Building. Strangely, this is something that I’d been meaning to do for quite some time. At the time of the bombing I was in my early twenties and I remember it well. My own midwestern city is quite similar and not even 300 miles away from OKC. The bombing has always played heavy on the psyche of the local people here. It was always a little to close for comfort. If it could happen there, it could, after all, happen in our own little quiet city. It could have been us in that building. And in one very real sense, it was.
If you ever find yourself in OKC, you simply must visit the memorial. It was both devastatingly sad and uplifting–a beautiful and somber tribute to the dead and the heros who worked to save the injured. If you’re not familar with the event, you can learn more here. In short, 168 people were killed, including 19 young children.
Please forgive my photographs. As my family and I walked through the memorial, I forgot what little I know of photography. I simply placed the viewfinder up to my eye and dumbly shot with no thought to exposure or composition.
The memorial consists of both an indoor and outdoor exhibit. The indoor component is a museum located in the building directly across the street. The experience walks the viewer through the timeline of what happened that day. It begins in a darkened room and an actual live recording from the building is played. It’s of a hearing on something mundane as water rights. Approximately two minutes into you hear a massive explosion and people screaming. The pictures of the dead then flash upon the walls. A door then opens into the main exhibit. It takes you through debris that was collected. Ordinary things like coffee mugs, watches, shoes, and briefcases. All the while, news and radio clips play over speakers, illustrating the chaos of those early minutes and hours.
One section shows clips of the news coverage from that day, as victims families describe what was going through their minds in those early hours. One clip shows a woman wailing, prostrate in grief over her son who was one of the young victims in the daycare. That’s when I lost it.
As I said, the indoor museum is located in the building which was directly across the street. The building was damaged and planners left one area untouched. It shows, in no uncertain terms, the extent of the sheer strength of the blast. Amazingly, the man who was in this office at the time survived.
Modeled after the famous Pullitzer Prize winning photo
The space outside is hallowed ground. It’s quiet now, and somber. People walk the ground in silence as the sounds of the city continue on around them. It’s hard to believe such an atrocious act happend there. Instead it’s very much like any other innercity park. Except for the rows of empty chairs representing the dead in the very place the building stood. There are also two large black square gates representing the minute before the blast (9:01) and the minute after (9:03). In between lies a quite pool of water. The empty space where time stopped for some and others were forever changed.
For me, the building of this monument represents the best of human kind. It’s an attempt to pull some type of meaning and beauty from the ugliest of acts. A place to remember the innocence that was cruelly taken by hatred. Although this event had nothing to do with the life of Dr. King, it was quite fitting that I visited the memorial on that day when America was remembering a great man and his message of non-violence.