D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser recently joined former Mayor Anthony Williams, Councilmember David Grosso, Library Executive Director Richard Reyes-Gavilan, Board of Library Trustees President Gregory McCarthy and a handful of residents to kick off construction at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library and a ceremonial lowering of the building’s historic mural.

The event proved emotional for several residents on hand for the June 9 ceremony that ushers in a massive $208 million modernization project. The mural was removed for safekeeping and will be cleaned and stored for the duration of the library’s renovation. When the building reopens, the mural will be returned to the library’s Great Hall.

“The first thing a visitor saw walking into the lobby of the library was this Dr. King mural – it gave me a sense of pride every time I came here because I remember a time when libraries were segregated,” Patricia Tarrance told the AFRO.  “It’s amazing to see the care the city is using to remove it – I think because they knew how much pride the residents took in seeing Dr. King and our fight for equality on that wall.”

The 56-by-7-foot oil mural contains nearly 100 images, buildings, and events, and was painted by Jamaican-born artist Donald Miller. The mural was installed on the first anniversary of the national holiday honoring Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan. 20, 1986. In addition to the mural, public art honoring Dr. King will be solicited for the library’s vestibule and the plaza in front of the building.

“My Administration is committed to expanding learning opportunities for residents of every age, in every neighborhood, and one way we are doing that is by building and renovating libraries across the District,” Bowser said at the removal. “Earlier this year, after 44 years of service, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library – the first public building in the country named for Dr. King – closed its doors for a complete $208 million renovation. When it reopens in 2020, the MLK Library will offer tremendous learning opportunities to more than one million visitors each year.”

In 2015, Bowser accelerated the funding to renovate the central library in her Fiscal Year 2016 Budget.

On March 4, 2017, the library closed for a complete modernization. When the $208 million transformation is complete, the building will feature: a new and transparent entryway, sculptured monumental stairs, a large auditorium and conference center, an interactive children’s space; and an expanded special collections space for researchers and local history enthusiasts.

“I guess I am a bit overwhelmed watching this mural come down just because it has been a part of my daily life while working on my dissertation research for nearly 5 years,” Tobin C. Taylor told the AFRO.  “Once the library administration opened the sitting area in the lobby, I’d write while looking up at that mural. It reminded me that the fight for anything worth having is arduous – but worth it.”