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Officials to clear homeless encampment near campus in May
By Max Porter, Contributing News Editor • March 4, 2024

Quick Take: Go ‘Beyond Granite’ on the National Mall

Making sense of our country is an ongoing process, and nothing is set in stone.

When a public park meets an open-air museum, you get the National Mall. Walk from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to the slopes of Capitol Hill, and you’ll witness a version of American history cut from stone, defined by sacrifice and dripping with Greco-Roman grandeur.

But that’s not the whole story — our nation’s past goes beyond granite, literally. “Beyond Granite” is the title of an ongoing exhibition exploring the stories that haven’t been told on the National Mall. Through Sept. 18, six exhibits ranging from a statue of the singer Marian Anderson to a map of migration routes from Southeast Asia are on display on the National Mall.

I won’t get into too much detail here lest I spoil anything, but a word of advice: Start at the Lincoln Memorial, walk east and take the Metro from the Smithsonian station back to Foggy Bottom.

These exhibits are worth seeing for yourself, and each of them is a lesson in juxtaposition. “Beyond Granite” puts people and places in dialogue with imposing monuments and memorials, complicating a relatively straightforward narrative of this country’s trials and triumphs.

How do we make sense of this thing called the United States? To try to answer that question, go to the National Mall. Two years ago, I went to the National Mall for the first time after a hot and humid move-in day. In dozens of trips since then, I’ve witnessed how it pulls double duty as a public space and a symbolic place.

The National Mall is where reverence and remembrance meet speeding scooters and meandering middle schoolers. It’s where the sublime meets the strange — go for the monuments, memorials and museums, and stay for the crank with a megaphone.

“Beyond Granite” says that each of us — you and me, and especially those who don’t see themselves reflected in the pale statues of a few historical figures — are part of the United States. When you clamber on a playground commemorating the desegregation of D.C.’s public schools or play the final note of “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” on a 600-pound bell, you’re helping to weave a richer, fuller tapestry of our nation.

The National Mall has much to say about the United States, particularly when it comes to the people who helped shape it and those who gave their lives to defend it. But “Beyond Granite” shows that making sense of our country is an ongoing process — and nothing is set in stone.

Ethan Benn, a senior majoring in journalism and communication, is the opinions editor. 

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About the Contributor
Ethan Benn, Opinions Editor
Ethan Benn, a senior majoring in journalism and communication, is the opinions editor.
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