In spirit, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has taken his rightful place on America’s National Mall. Twenty-seven years in the making, the journey to the first national memorial honoring an African-American has been a test of the very perseverance Dr. King preached and lived in his 39 short years.
Japanese Yoshino cherry blossom trees surround the four acre plot of land dedicated to the humanitarian whose message of peace and love gripped a nation that was engulfed with racial turmoil and civil unrest.
On the National Mall, visitors enter through a narrowed path created by two massive boulders of marble. After passing through the tapered walkway, guests come into a wide open space where another lone boulder stands with Dr. King appearing out of the stone. The MLK Memorial is a physical manifestation of Dr. King’s words at the 1963 March on Washington, “Out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.”
“I felt like I was walking into an area signifying freedom, peace, equality, justice and renewal,” said Caron Gwynn, who visited the memorial on the first day of its soft opening to the public.
Crowds could be seen streaming in from across the nation to honor the man who ultimately laid down his life for the change he believed in.
“He’s done so much for the advancement of people- not just African Americans but people of the world,” said Patty Compton, a visitor from Athens, Ga.
Fourteen of Dr. King’s most inspiring quotes also line a 450-foot crescent shaped granite wall that creates a boundary for the area.
“No leader can be stronger than one’s words. The word gives guidance to unborn generations,” said the Rev. Harold Carter Sr., pastor of New Shiloh Baptist Church. Rev. Carter, a Baltimore civil rights leader and personal friend of Dr. King, was instrumental in the fight for equal rights in Baltimore as well as around the country.
The two civil rights activists collaborated on numerous projects such as Dr. King’s final initiative, the Poor People’s Campaign, which sought to give a voice to those living in poverty. “He was more than a dreamer,” Rev. Carter also said. “He put action to his dreams.”
Dr. King also opened the door for others to dream and challenged them with his love ethic.
“Many blacks and whites doubted the strength of love he proclaimed. He proved it could work and I think he died not knowing the power he wielded,” said the Rev. Marion Bascom, in a phone interview. Bascom, former pastor of Douglas Memorial Community Church and co-founder of the Goon Squad, part of a group of collegiate men who took on the task of desegregating Baltimore, was also very close to Dr. King.
Born in Atlanta to the Rev. Martin Luther King Sr. and Alberta Williams King, it was inevitable for the younger King to become anything less than great. Ordained as a minister in his last year at Morehouse College, by age 26 Dr. King had completed Boston University’s School of Theology doctorate program in systematic theology.
While Dr. King had been lightly involved in a growing civil rights movement during the late 1940s, it was his 1955 move to Montgomery, Alabama and an appointment as leader of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) that propelled him to the forefront of the struggle against racial oppression.
For the next 13 years Dr. King lead a non-violent movement to help desegregate schools, workplaces and voting booths.
Visitors looking to make a pilgrimage to the monument of peace can find it at 1964 Independence Ave, SW, Washington, DC 20024, a reference to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The official dedication ceremony will be held on August 28. President Barack Obama will deliver a speech about King’s legacy and Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder will also offer tributes to King.