Amata's Journal: August D.C. Events – Large and Small
With Congress on summer recess and the President although back from his vacation is out on the road, Washington is a quiet town in August.
This year is an exception, however, with all the events surrounding the 50th anniversary commemoration of the 1963 civil rights March on Washington, during which Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” address on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. It was important for me personally to be there because of the role my father played in breaking barriers.
One other occasion important to me personally this week was the memorial and funeral services for Frank Solomon, a dear friend who was married for 29 years to Millie Ah Ching Solomon, equally my dear friend. Millie was working as protocol officer for my dad in the governor’s office until Frank swept her off her feet and moved her to Washington, where he was a senior official at the Department of the Interior in charge of the Insular Office’s technical assistance program.
We tend to think of official Washington in terms of politicians and bureaucrats but Frank was neither. He was a true public servant in the finest sense of the term and had a special love for the territories—particularly American Samoa, the blood of whose islands courses through the veins of his children. Whenever I had a question about federal policy towards American Samoa that I needed answered, I always knew I could turn to Frank for an uncomplicated, straightforward answer. And if he could help me with a problem, he did.
As a testament to the high regard in which Frank was held, the small funeral chapel where his body lay at rest in suburban Washington was filled to overflowing as the testimonials to his life overflowed as well. Among those in attendance were neighbors, friends and colleagues from his Interior days; the American Legion with its honor guard and his friends from the world of recreational baseball where he was a dedicated coach.
The Samoan community was well represented and the ambassadors of the Federated States of Micronesia and Palau came, too. I have no doubt the Marshall Islands would have been represented if it were not for the ambassador being away in Majuro to help prepare for the Pacific Islands Forum taking place there in a couple of weeks.
News of his untimely death at age 67 came as a genuine shock to me. News coverage of Frank’s funeral may be crowded out in the Washington media by stories of the March anniversary, but the people who mattered to him most will read about it here.
Earlier in the day, prior to the memorial service for Frank, I attended a luncheon hosted by the Republican National Committee to commemorate the March on Washington. It was a particular honor to be there because of my father’s own pioneering role in Civil Rights as the first native Pacific Islander to be appointed as a head of government anywhere in the Pacific outside the Kingdom of Tonga, where the post is hereditary. The distinction of being first is something in which all Samoans can take pride.
Within a couple of months after the 1956 Republican National Convention, which adopted a very strong Civil Rights platform plank, President Eisenhower made dad governor of American Samoa and the following year was able to persuade Congress to enact the first Civil Rights Act since the Civil War era. The after-luncheon speeches were very inspiring and I would encourage readers to watch the video of the event, which was carried nationally on the CSPAN network: http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/RNCL.
The March commemoration lunch and Frank Solomon’s funeral: events large and small during an otherwise lazy summer week in Washington. I am just grateful I could be there for both.