On October 16, the national memorial for Martin Luther King Jr. will be officially dedicated. The event was rescheduled from August due to Hurricane Irene. Because schools are back in session, the original attendance estimate of 250,000 has been lowered to 50,000. The four-acre park has been open to the public since August.
The site of the memorial is along the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC, between the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials. It is the first memorial for an African American within the National Mall and the first major monument for someone other than a president. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech provides the inspiration for the park’s design. The 30-foot statue of King shows him emerging from a block of stone, a reference to his hope for “hew[ing] out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.” Fourteen more quotations from other of King’s speeches are inscribed along a 450-foot wall. The address of the memorial is 1964 Independence Avenue, a reference to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The design of the memorial has stirred some controversy. One criticism is that the sculptor is Chinese, and the stone used is from China. Critics also say that one of the most prominent inscriptions misrepresents King’s view of his role within the civil rights movement. The controversial inscription reads, “I was a drum major for justice, peace, and righteousness.” It is a paraphrasing of a longer passage in which he theorized about his possible eulogy. Detractors believe that the rewording gives King a sense of arrogance that he did not possess. The designers of the project, however, stand behind their decision to shorten the quotation in order to make it more prominent within the space provided.
Despite the controversy over the design, many visitors to the site feel that it is an important and moving reminder of the accomplishments of Dr. King.
Image credit: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
- The Official MLK Memorial Web Site
Learn about the building and dedication of the memorial. This site includes a time line of events in MLK’s life and the process of building the monument, plus descriptions of the meanings behind various design elements.
(Source: MLK Memorial Official Web Site; accessed September 30, 2011)
- A Mirror of Greatness, Blurred
Explore the controversy over the MLK memorial and view examples of other memorials whose designs caused disagreement; includes slideshow of the new monument.
(Source: New York Times, August 25, 2011)
- Public Gets First Glimpse of MLK Memorial
Watch video footage showing views of the memorial and interviews with members of the public expressing their reactions and opinions about the memorial and Martin Luther King’s achievements.
(Source: CBS News, August 22, 2011)
- National Mall & Memorial Parks in Washington, D.C.
View maps of the National Mall showing locations of the many national memorials and monuments in Washington, D.C.
(Source: National Park Service; accessed September 30, 2011)