July 12th, 2010
09:50 AM ET

Letter to the President #539: 'A sight on Auburn Avenue'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://www.cnn.com/video/politics/2010/07/07/bts.obama.economy.exports.cnn.640×360.jpg caption="Presidents get the inside scoop on many grand affairs, but there is a trade out. Often, fame and power make it impossible for them to observe simple daily events that the rest of us stumble into all the time." width=300 height=169]

Reporter's Note: Presidents get the inside scoop on many grand affairs, but there is a trade out. Often, fame and power make it impossible for them to observe simple daily events that the rest of us stumble into all the time. So I’m writing about one of those in today’s letter to the White House.

Dear Mr. President,

Sometimes I see things that I want to tell you about even though they really have nothing to do with you, or the news, or anything else for that matter, and this is just such a story. I spent the weekend in Atlanta attending an orientation session for my elder daughter at Georgia Tech, which continues to impress me as an absolutely spectacular university, and trust me, over the past two years I’ve seen a lot of schools. And let’s face it, Buzz is just adorable.

While there, my wife and I decided to take a tour of Atlanta offered by GT, and that’s when this little episode occurred. Primarily we saw sights that I’ve known for many years: the beautiful homes of Buckhead, the grand Fox Theater, the stadium where the Braves play, and of course CNN… which is kind of strange since I work there. But then we rode down Auburn Avenue, where Martin Luther King was born, where he preached, and where he is buried.

Twilight was rapidly gathering as we passed beneath the twin spans of Interstates 75 and 85, working our way down past the birthplace of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Ebenezer Baptist Church. By the time we were in front of the King Center, our guide’s description of this street’s role in his life, and the civil rights movement had brought a certain quiet to the bus.

We eased to a stop where the eternal flame to his honor was burning just outside our window, and behind it the twin tombs of Martin Luther King and his wife Coretta gleamed across the pool that surrounds them. In the gathering gloom it seemed so very solemn. Then I noticed a man. He was thin, and his clothes hung loosely. He looked homeless, like a good many of the folks we’d just seen beneath the highways, and he was sitting on the low wall at the edge of the water, close by the tombs.

His back was to us as we pulled up, and he rose quickly, looking around as if startled. Then when he saw it was merely a tour bus, he sat back down and turned toward the tombs again. I thought for a moment he was thinking, or just looking, or paying respects, or maybe even praying. Then the bus began to roll again, and I saw that he was leaning forward, reaching into the pool, and washing his hands.

I don’t know what he was thinking, or if he was even aware of his surroundings. I don’t know if he gave a thought to the legacy of the man enshrined before him, or if he was simply looking for a place to clean up from a hard life on the streets. I have no idea how he came to be there, and I can’t pretend to see meaning in such moments. But they often linger in my mind, and since I know presidents can rarely observe such quiet instances I thought I’d pass it on. I hope your week is off to a good start. Call if you get a moment.


Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. Tammy Christine

    Thats exactly why we have presidents, to interact with everybody, the poor, the homeless, everyone.. Not just the folks that wear suits.. These are the back bone of humanity.. With love, TC

    July 12, 2010 at 10:17 am |
  2. Chi

    I read your letters everyday, Tom. Thank you for your writing : )

    July 12, 2010 at 10:12 am |

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