The formal dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial today is a fitting tribute to a man recognized as one of history’s greatest leaders.
The dedication of the first memorial to an African-American leader on the National Mall will be done in a ceremony featuring an address by the nation’s first African-American president on the site where King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech nearly a half-century ago.
The dedication comes after some early skirmishes and after organizers postponed the Aug. 28 dedication when Hurricane Irene threatened the Washington area.
There were some initial challenges to get over, such as who would sculpt King’s likeness and who would profit from the $120 million fundraising effort, as the King family demanded a licensing fee to support the King Center in Atlanta.
Even after the monument was built, questions were raised over King’s likeness, with some questioning whether it depicted him as too confrontational and others objecting over a quote they saw as too arrogant on one side of the granite “Stone of Hope” which reads, “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.”
In a sermon at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church just months before his death in 1968, King preached, ‘Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all the other shallow things will not matter.”
Fortunately there are 14 other quotations from King that appear on a 450-foot long memorial behind his statue that provides fuller context.
But today, past controversies and challenges do not matter as much as the fact that the new memorial, set between those of Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, will commemorate King’s quest of equal opportunity for all.
King was only 26 years old when he was asked to lead the Montgomery bus boycott.
He was only 34 years old when in 1963 he gave his famous “I Have A Dream” speech at the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.”
On Dec 10, 1964, he won the Nobel Peace Prize.
King led the movement that led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The civil rights movement he led had a major effect on American society by engaging in a mass struggle that led to the destruction of segregation in the South.
The civil rights leader also spoke out against the Vietnam War and economic injustice.
At the time he was assassinated in Memphis in 1968, King was involved in his “Poor People’s Campaign” to dramatize the plight of the poor
The Associated Press has a story on how President Barack Obama, the nation’s first African-American president, once wondered what it would be like to take his children Malia and Sasha to see the memorial to King.
“I know that one of my daughters will ask, perhaps my youngest, will ask, ‘Daddy, why is this monument here? What did this man do?’”
Decades from now other children will see the towering sculpture and ask the same question. Now this courageous and committed civil rights leader has a monument that will be a constant reminder for generations to come of the man and the movement.