TRAVEL

WASH­ING­TON DC

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Fol­low in the foot­steps of Amer­ica’s civil rights move­ment, with a tour of its his­toric cap­i­tal. By Aaron Mil­lar At his memo­rial in Wash­ing­ton DC, the statue of Martin Luther King Jr is half fin­ished. The legs and back dis­ap­pear, like a ghost, into a slab of un­car­ved white mar­ble. His face is de­ter­mined and res­o­lute, but not yet sat­is­fied. A line from his “I Have a Dream” speech, from 1963, is etched into the rock: “Out of the moun­tain of de­spair, a stone of hope.” His sculp­ture is un­fin­ished for a rea­son – the strug­gle con­tin­ues.

The civil rights move­ment was about racial equal­ity, but it was also about liv­ing up to the guar­an­tees of the con­sti­tu­tion, to “cash a cheque,” as Dr King put it, “[on the] prom­is­sory note to which ev­ery Amer­i­can was to fall heir” – that all in­di­vid­u­als, re­gard­less of who they are or where they’re from, would be given the un­alien­able rights of life, lib­erty and the pur­suit of hap­pi­ness.

Now some­thing’s brew­ing again. Fuelled by the far right rhetoric of the Trump pres­i­dency, and a grow­ing dis­trust in po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic sys­tems, a new civil rights move­ment has been born – one based not just on race but on LGBQT rights, eco­nomic rights, im­mi­gra­tion rights and the en­vi­ron­men­tal rights of all fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. The new civil rights move­ment, the re­sis­tance as it has come to be known, may be an­gry at Trump, but it’s also about cash­ing that cheque.

Which is why I’ve come to Wash­ing­ton DC – to see where the great ex­per­i­ment in self-gov­er­nance be­gan. There is nowhere bet­ter to un­der­stand Amer­ica’s po­lit­i­cal hopes and dreams, to get a sense of the roots of the di­vi­sion in Amer­ica and the fu­ture of the re­sis­tance now.

But there are other rea­sons to visit, too. Za­gat re­cently rated Wash­ing­ton DC as the num­ber one foodie des­ti­na­tion in Amer­ica. And the his­toric Ge­orge­town dis­trict, with its grand, red-brick homes and cob­bled pave­ments, is lively and fun, filled with shops, restau­rants and bars.

There are many de­cently priced ho­tels in Wash­ing­ton. One of the best value is prob­a­bly the Tabard Inn in Dupont Cir­cle, men­tioned in John Gr­isham’s Pel­i­can Brief . But if you can af­ford to splash out for one night the Water­gate Ho­tel is worth it for its legacy alone. It was here, in 1972, that em­ploy­ees of Pres­i­dent Nixon spent the night af­ter il­le­gally raid­ing the of­fices of the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee nearby. It may be marred in scan­dal, but it’s spec­tac­u­lar: bold, mid­cen­tury mod­ern de­sign filled with gold, glam­our, and the best whisky bar in the city.

If you’re here for the his­tory, the

Parts of the Capi­tol building, the Statue of Free­dom, and even the White House, were built by men in chains

best place to start is where Dr King ended his march, on the steps of the Lin­coln Memo­rial. He chose this spot be­cause, in many ways, it rep­re­sented a full cir­cle for African Amer­i­cans. The man who had signed the Eman­ci­pa­tion Procla­ma­tion and freed the slaves stood watch as thou­sands came to de­mand the fruits of that prom­ise. It’s a mov­ing place. The great obelisk of the Wash­ing­ton Memo­rial, the pil­lars of the Na­tional Archives, home of the Con­sti­tu­tion and the Bill of Rights, and the ro­tunda of the Capi­tol – they are a pow­er­ful sight, but a con­flict­ing one, too.

Many of these mon­u­ments were made by slaves. Parts of the Capi­tol building, the Statue of Free­dom which sits on top, even the White House it­self were built by men in chains. This coun­try was founded on that para­dox. Lin­coln freed the slaves and was shot in Ford’s Theatre down the road for do­ing so. Dr King’s dream, those words that seem so ob­vi­ous now, were viewed by many as a threat: J Edgar Hoover, the di­rec­tor of the FBI at the time, worked tire­lessly to un­der­mine his ef­forts. The Civil Rights Act, far from be­ing unan­i­mously re­ceived, was con­stantly ob­structed by south­ern mem­bers of the congress. Only the as­sas­si­na­tion of Kennedy, and the out­rage that fol­lowed, had the po­lit­i­cal mus­cle to push it through.

Away from the pol­i­tics, there is much else in Wash­ing­ton to ad­mire. Ben’s Chili Bowl on U-Street, home of the chili half smoke, is a DC in­sti­tu­tion and has wel­comed ev­ery­one from Chris Rock to the cast of There’s also Capi­tol Lounge for pizza and $5 mar­gar­i­tas; and the Cozy Den Cof­fee Shop, with the ex­cel­lent book­store above which hosts reg­u­lar au­thor talks and events. Baba, just across the Po­tomac river in Ar­ling­ton, serves craft cock­tails in a cool speakeasy set­ting and a choco­late and or­ange dessert that tastes like Jaffa Cakes.

I saved the best un­til last with a visit to the Smith­so­nian Na­tional Mu­seum of African Amer­i­can His­tory and Cul­ture. The first mu­seum of its kind in the coun­try, it has sold out ev­ery day since it opened a year ago. The jour­ney be­gins in the base­ment, with slave ships com­ing to the New World, and winds slowly up­wards through cot­ton fields and seg­re­ga­tion to three floors of art, mu­sic, sports, danc­ing – a cel­e­bra­tion of African Amer­i­can cul­ture and the in­flu­ence of black lives on the coun­try to­day. Nowhere is the story of Amer­ica’s di­vi­sion, and the bridges that have over­come it, bet­ter told. What bet­ter way to end a trip in Wash­ing­ton?

Dou­ble rooms at the Tabard Inn (tabardinn.com) start at £139 and at the Water­gate Ho­tel (the­wa­ter­gate­ho­tel. com) cost £200. Flights from London to Wash­ing­ton DC with Vir­gin At­lantic (vir­ginat­lantic.com), cost from £700

Made in DC: (clock­wise from main im­age) the Martin Luther King memo­rial; Smith­so­nian Na­tional Mu­seum of African Amer­i­can His­tory and Cul­ture; Ge­orge­town; Ford’s Theatre; the Po­tomac River; and Abra­ham Lin­coln

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