Saturday, Aug. 27, 2011 | 2 a.m.
The Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial opened in Washington last week with a series of events. The official dedication was scheduled for Sunday but had to be postponed because of Hurricane Irene. The scheduled ceremony would have been fitting because Sunday is the 48th anniversary of King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
The site of the memorial lies between the Jefferson Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial, and that is appropriate. Speaking on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, King used a line from the Declaration of Independence, which was drafted by Thomas Jefferson, to make his point.
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,’ ” King said to an estimated 250,000 people.
A minister and gifted orator, he galvanized a movement in the United States for social justice, fighting racism and social injustice. He traveled the country, advocating on behalf of people who didn’t have a voice. He was assassinated in 1968 after he traveled to Memphis, Tenn., to support black sanitation workers who were striking for better pay and working conditions.
The memorial, 25 years in the making, is unique in that other monuments on the Washington Mall are dedicated to presidents or to honor the memory of those who fought in the nation’s wars.
King is best known for his work fighting discrimination in the South. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for his use of nonviolent methods to combat racial segregation and inequality. However, according to The New York Times, the memorial’s designers chose to focus on King’s work on justice and anti-poverty measures, not race.
“We hope that in the next 100 years, that (race) won’t be important,” said Harry Johnson, president of the foundation that supports the memorial. “What’s important is that you have food in your belly.”
Johnson said the memorial’s design is about hope, and it uses allusions to his “I Have a Dream” speech. Visitors walk through a granite “mountain of despair” to a 30-foot tall “stone of hope,” which has a full statue of King engraved into one side.
Visitors have noted that the statue looks out over the Tidal Basin and some have said they see it as King looking forward. That’s appropriate. King was a visionary leader who pushed this country to better things. His dream hasn’t been fully accomplished, but it has gone a long way thanks to his leadership and the work of those who followed him. The memorial is a long overdue honor to King and his dream.
May his work and his dream be an inspiration for generations to come.