Long-Awaited Martin Luther King Memorial Opens
||Washington Examiner (DC)
||Sunday, August 21, 2011
The national memorial for Martin Luther King Jr. is set to open Monday morning, nearly 48 years after the renowned civil rights leader delivered his famous "I have a dream" speech from the steps of the nearby Lincoln Memorial.
The 28-foot-tall likeness overlooking the Potomac River is the first on the National Mall honoring someone who was not president and the first honoring an African-American.
Proposed by Congress 15 years ago, the white granite memorial was created to honor the man who led the fight for civil rights in the 1950s and '60s. But activists, scholars and community leaders say it is also a reminder that the fight King led isn't over.
"There's no greater monument to the ability of the American people to change," said Maurice Jackson, who teaches history and African-American studies at Georgetown University. "King would be the first to look at this and to say keep marching, keep fighting."
If he were alive today, King would be fighting to feed the hungry, house the homeless and employ the unemployed, activists say. He would support the labor movement and the fight for D.C. statehood, and he would want to protect the environment.
King led a movement that became an example for later fights, like those for women's and gay rights, said Chuck Hicks, who heads the D.C. Black History Celebration Committee. Though the country has come a long way since the civil rights movement, it is far from perfect, he said.
"Dr. King understood that freedom is not free, that nobody gives you anything and if they give it to you, they can take it away from you," Hicks said.
But King's vision was not just about equality, said Eddie Glaude, chairman of Princeton University's Center for African American Studies.
"King's witness was a radical challenge to who we take ourselves to be as a democratic nation," Glaude said. "The very idea of democracy has been expanded by those movements led by people who were excluded from American life. The very idea of citizenship has been transformed by the ending of Jim Crow."
King fought for issues that often made him unpopular, Glaude said, but he kept fighting for those issues until he was killed in 1968.
"He knew the danger that he was putting himself in and his family in," said National Council of Negro Women Executive Director Avis Jones-DeWeever. "Yet he understood that someone had to stand up."
That courage will be formally celebrated with a memorial dedication on Sunday -- the 48th anniversary of the "I have a dream" speech. President Obama will be among the speakers at the public event, which is expected to draw crowds of at least 300,000.
But people are already yearning for a look at the new monument.
"We felt compelled to come down and look at it because he's such a great part of history," said Cristy Smith, who peered through a chain-link fence at the huge statue Friday before it opened. Smith returned home to Seattle on Sunday.
D.C. resident Endeira Greenville also visited the memorial. She recalled meeting King in 1964 at the Capital Hilton when she was 12.
But King might not have wanted the big celebration in his honor, said Southern Christian Leadership Conference Board Member J.T. Johnson, who worked with King throughout the civil rights era. "I'm not saying that he doesn't deserve a monument in Washington, D.C., but I just think that Dr. King would have been much more keen if we had decided to do something different."
Hicks agreed: "Dr. King would say, 'I appreciate this honor but ... the fight goes on.' "