Sunday, August 30, 2009

Farewell to Ted Kennedy

Special post from Arlington Cemetery by Steve Zurier

The day after Ted Kennedy's burial, I just felt that I wanted to be there today to say goodbye to the last Kennedy brother. If I were a history or civics teacher, I would have all my students research and write a report on how Senator Kennedy's work touched their lives.

For me:

In the 1970s, Ted Kennedy fought against S-1, the draconian set of laws that would have put harsh restrictions on the press. I can remember those of us who wanted to pursue press careers being very grateful for Ted Kennedy's outspoken critique of the legislation.

In the 1980s Ted Kennedy fought the union busting that went on during the Reagan era. The owners of the newspaper I worked for would have fired all of us and hired stringers if they could, but I was able to hang on a couple of years for some much-needed experience because I was protected by the union.

In the early 90s, my wife Stephanie lobbied hard for the Family Medical Leave Act, which allows young mothers to leave work for 12 weeks of unpaid leave after the birth of a child. While our family did not take advantage of the law, others were helped because of Sen. Kennedy's efforts.

During the recession of 2001, I collected unemployment after being laid off. Sen Kennedy always supported unemployment insurance and any time a vote came up for extending benefits or raising the minimum wage, Sen. Kennedy could be counted on to support it.

One note about the shot with the flag at half-mast. In the background is Arlington House, which was originally owned by George Washington Parke Custis, the grandson of Martha Washington and step-son of George Washington. Custis inherited the land and between 1802 and 1818, and built Arlington House. It was the nation's first memorial to George Washington and a home for the Custis family.

In 1831, Custis' only surviving child, Mary Anna Randolph Custis married Lt. Robert E. Lee (the Robert E Lee) in the front parlor of Arlington House. For over 30 years Arlington House became the home of the Lee family. In 1861 when the Civil War broke out, the Lees vacated the property and federal troops occupied the estate, using Arlington House as headquarters. In 1863 Freedman's Village was established on the estate to assist refugee slaves in the transition from slavery to freedom. Later on during the Civil War, the property became a burial ground for the war dead. By the end of the Civil War there were nearly 16,000 dead buried on the old 1,100-acre plantation.

Anyway, the point is that the Kennedy brothers are all together again. Despite their foibles there's no question that the Kennedy family's story is tightly woven into our nation's history.

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