Delayed but not Denied:
Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Dedication
By Jocelyn Jones
The Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial on The Mall in Washington, D.C., honors the slain civil rights leader’s vision of freedom and opportunity and his legacy as an enduring figure in the nation’s history.
The monument was to have been dedicated in conjunction with the 48th anniversary of the March on Washington on Aug. 28. However, inclement weather prompted organizers to reschedule the public dedication ceremony on Oct. 16. Since its dedication, tens of thousands of people have made the pilgrimage to view the memorial and to reminisce about all that was accomplished to turn the Baptist preacher’s dream into reality.
On a recent day, Ericka Abrams, who was visiting the memorial from Cleveland, expressed what the memorial meant to her and how King’s contributions impacted her life.
“It represents American exceptionalism and the beauty of humanity,” said Abrams, a public health practitioner and doctoral student in public health. “The fact that the country has finally honored a man of his magnitude and the contributions that he made for the world is a wonderful thing.
“It has impacted my life tremendously,” she added. “I can walk into any institution in this country --- in this world for that matter --- and get an education; gain employment, and my legacy and my children can also do the same. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and his legacy and everything he represented for humanity and everything that he did is personified so the world has benefited and continues to benefit thanks to his ultimate sacrifice.”
At the memorial’s entry portal, two stones are parted and a single wedge is in the center pushed forward toward the horizon. Upon walking into the main entrance there is water that appears on both sides of the main entry; the sound of the water rolling down is peaceful. Further down to the left and right is the inscription wall that shows quotations from King’s great speeches. The wall is surrounded by cherry blossom trees.
The memorial’s overall design is taken from a phrase in King’s “I Have a Dream” speech delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963. In that speech that transformed and transfixed the nation, King enunciated his faith that “out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.”
The memorial was made to capture the essence of Dr. King and his dream. It is intended to show dedication and the essence of his vision of democracy, freedom and opportunity for all people.
“Just walking up here made me feel really proud as though we have accomplished something where we continued to fight for freedom,” said Dawna Baker, a visitor to the memorial. “It means we have come a long way and that we still have a long way to go.”
Alexys Lewis, who was visiting the memorial with classmates from Thomas Stone High School in Waldorf, Md., said King’s message is universal. “To me he wasn’t just a symbol for equality for blacks and whites; he was a symbol for equality for all races.”
Although the memorial is designed to reflect King’s vision for a nation struggling to emerge from slavery and segregation into a future of freedom and racial harmony, it is difficult for any one piece of art to capture his immense legacy. Yet visitors celebrated the monument’s creation as a major step forward in the nation’s ongoing battle for civil rights.
“I think it [represents] a wonderful moment in American history. It is a tribute to Martin Luther King and his remarkable work. … The people who followed him and supported him were both white and black,” said Stew Bloch, a memorial visitor who is white.
“We believed in him and we followed him and this is also a tribute to the United States of America being able to put this monument here among the monument of President Lincoln, President Washington, President Jefferson and President Roosevelt,” Bloch added. “It is remarkable, and a tribute to this country, to his work, and a tribute to all who believed in what he believed in.”