Martin Luther King Memorial

MLK Memorial

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial stands proud in West Potomac Park in Washington, D.C., just southwest of the National Mall. Amongst a bevy of other wondrous facts, the national memorial is America’s 395th unit in the national park service itself, shining like a beacon of hope and morality at the northwest corner of the Tidal Basin near the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. This sightline links the Lincoln Memorial to the northwest and the Jefferson Memorial to the southeast, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial sprawling some four acres.

The Memorial opened to the adoring public on August 22, 2011 after more than two decades of planning, fundraising and construction; a planned ceremony dedicating the MLK Memorial was scheduled for Sunday, August 28, 2011 – coinciding with the 48th anniversary of the famous “I Have a Dream” speech that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. bellowed from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 – yet had to be postponed until October 16 due to Hurricane Irene that was rampaging the Eastern Seaboard. Coincidentally – or perhaps not so much – the October 16 date coincided with the 16th anniversary of the 1995 Million Man March on the National Mall.

Yet beyond the obvious factors that makes this Memorial such a vital and historically rich addition to the myriad of other American memorialized institutions, such as the underwater graveyard at Pearl Harbor or Mount Rushmore, is the fact that it honors the first African-American with a memorial on or near the National Mall – only the fourth non-Presidential figure to be memorialized in such a way.

What many people aren’t aware of with regard to the MLK Memorial is that its beginnings were actually a result of an early effort by the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity to erect a monument to King. Being a member of that fraternal organization, King was initiated via the Sigma Chapter on June 22, 1952 while he was attending Boston University. The Martin Luther King Memorial structure today sits at 1964 Independence Avenue in southwest Washington, D.C. – “1964” chosen as a linear reference to the 1964 Civil Rights Act in which King played a vital role – and its centerpiece is based on a line from King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The line, “Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope”, inspired a 30-foot-high relief of King donned “Stone of Hope” while two other pieces of granite symbolize the “mountain of despair.”

Here is an excellent visual of the amazing Martin Luther King Memorial:

An official vision statement for the memorial notes, in one of the passages, “The vision of a memorial in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. is one that captures the essence of his message, a message in which he so eloquently affirms the commanding tenants of the American Dream – Freedom, Democracy and Opportunity for All; a noble quest that gained him the Nobel Peace Prize and one that continues to influence people and societies throughout the world.” President and Chief Executive Officer of the memorial foundation Harry E. Johnson added his thoughts in a letter included on the memorial’s website in which he calls the King Memorial an “envisioned quiet and peaceful space.” He also goes on to state that the Memorial, against the backdrop of the Lincoln Memorial with jaw-dropping views of the Tidal Basin and Jefferson Memorial, will forever serve as a “public sanctuary” where future generations of Americans – irrespective of race, religion, gender, or ethnicity – can gather to honor Dr. King.

This experience of visiting the Martin Luther King Memorial, for many, has been akin to taking a journey similar to the one King himself took in his struggle for civil rights.

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