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The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

Last weekend, I decided to go to Washington, DC to see family and friends and also to view the monument to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which was recently unveiled on the Mall.

It was to have been dedicated on August 28th in a ceremony marking the anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech but was postponed because of the arrival of Hurricane Irene.

As with most public art pieces, there has been some controversy. One, that the project did not go to an American and two, that Dr. King’s features look Asian.

MLK Memorial
Dr. King Memorial, Washington DC

I had assumed the sculptor would have been African-American, I had no idea that he was Chinese or that the competition had been open to international artists. But we must accept that we live in a global community. Most importantly, Dr. King’s work was about equality and fairness for everyone, not just black people.

I don’t think, like I’ve heard others say, that the rendering of his image makes him look Asian. I wonder though, if the sculptor’s identity had not revealed, if that idea would even have entered our minds.

Out of the monument of despair, a stone of hope
MLK Memorial side view - Out of the monument of despair, a stone of hope

Those issues aside, my observation or maybe my preference would have been for a likeness of Dr. King with a smile on his face. So many times, in photos, he’s smiling. Then again, I’m sure there would have been those who would have objected.

The first thing I saw as I entered the grounds were two large slabs of granite flanking the entrance. I couldn’t interpret what they meant until I noticed that the monument itself looked as if it had been cut from the center. Then it made sense. The granite represented the mountain. And as the quote that’s etched into the side of the monument noted, Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.

Inscribed wall at the MLK Memorial
Quote from a speech Dr. King made in California in 1967

Dr. King gazes quietly and reflectively over the Tidal Basin towards the Jefferson Memorial. His hands are folded, his legs are slightly apart. It is a peaceful and powerful pose.

Behind the sculpture is a wall that’s been inscribed with quotations from speeches that Dr. King made in the U.S. and around the world.

As I walked around, taking photos, looking at the sculpture, I couldn’t help thinking of the work that went into creating the memorial and the holiday to honor this remarkable man, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. King’s dream

Martin Luther King, Jr.
Image via Wikipedia

It took 15 years for the third Monday in January to be designated the day we would remember and honor civil rights activist, Martin Luther King, Jr.

The first year we celebrated, I remember the euphoria, the sense of pride, the feeling of hope. I also remember an older gentleman in the building I lived at the time saying that if we didn’t remain true, the day would become like any other, meaning, we’d forget, we’d lose focus or we’d see it as one more day to shop. And I thought then, with all the hardships, all the sacrifice Dr. King and the other activists went through? Never!

Yet, today, I found myself at home doing everyday activities, like laundry. Not in a million years did I think this would ever happen.

I feel guilty. Dr. King’s efforts paved the way for me and countless others. But I’m not sure anymore what the best way is to honor his life, his work and his sacrifice. It is something I’ll have to think about for next year. If you have any ideas, please let me know.

In the meantime, please enjoy this tribute by Nina Simone that a friend shared with me.