Dr.Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy memorialized nationally, locally—By Yussuf J. Simmonds, Contributing Writer


D.C. monument completed in time for March on Washington anniversary

According to the history of Washington monuments, the National Memorial in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was completed with lightning speed, and that by itself is a tribute to the quality of the man: his life, his work and his accomplishments. The National Memorial is located on a four-acre site that is situated adjacent to the FDR Memorial and in a direct line between the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials.

Congress passed a Joint Resolution in 1996 authorizing Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. to establish a memorial in Washington, D.C. honoring Dr. King, who is standing literally as a king among men (presidents). As the project began to unfold, its magnitude created many bumps in the road, but as Dr. King would say, “You can disagree without becoming disagreeable.” Those bumps were smoothened out as time went by. Though much significance can be attributed to the completion of the Dr. King National Memorial in time for the 48th anniversary of his historic March on Washington, one thing is certain: Looking at the events of today, though some progress has been made, the Dream is still unfulfilled. McKissack & McKissack, the oldest minority-owned architecture firm in the country, headed up the design team that consisted of construction, architect and building entities. The centerpiece of the memorial is a three-story high sculpture of Dr. King that is made of granite symbolically reflecting the character of the man — unyielding, enduring and steadfast.

There are walls around the memorial on which selected portions of Dr. King’s speeches and sermons are etched. Those selections were chosen by a group of historians including Maya Angelou, Cornel West, the late John Hope Franklin and Henry Louis Gates. The controversy over the choice of a Chinese sculptor was one of the bumps in the road, and Martin Luther King, III seemed to have mitigated that by saying that he’s seen “probably 50 sculptures of my dad, and [I] would say 47 of them are not good reflections,” but that “this particular artist — he’s done a good job.” And it appeared that the focus on getting the memorial completed in a timely manner overcame any and all squabbling. The dedication scheduled August 28 to coincide with the 48th anniversary of the historic March on Washington was postponed due to the anticipated landfall of Hurricane Irene, but the memorial was open to the public that weekend.

The dedication is planned for a later date in September or October. The men, women and children who witness the dedication will be witness-bearers to the work of Dr. King. Many who will be present had marched with Dr. King; had been to jail with him; had withstood the barbs and insults that he endured and championed the cause of a King national holiday, including Stevie Wonder, who penned a tune, “Happy Birthday,” in honor of the birthday-holiday.

For the children who will be present, Dr. King has allowed most of them an improved measure of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness than he had. And to be able to be much more than they could have been had he not lived the life that he did. Yussuf J. Simmonds wrote this story for the National Newspaper Publishers Association.