By Denise Rolark Barnes(Special to NNPA from The Washington Informer)
The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial officially opened this week on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The 28-foot tall granite statue, which stands between the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials, and the nearby F.D. Roosevelt memorial, is the first monument on the National Mall erected in honor of an African American and a non-president.
Hundreds of Washington area residents began visiting the memorial on Monday with a preview of the site before the official dedication that will be held on Sun., Aug. 28. The keynote address will be delivered by President Barack Obama who will join civil rights icons at the dedication where more than 250,000 visitors from around the world are expected to attend.
“I am ecstatic,” said Harry Johnson, Sr., president and CEO of the MLK Memorial Foundation and a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, about this week’s opening. “This is a gathering place on the Mall for everyone to see what Dr. King meant to our country and to the world.”
The week-long celebration includes the Dream Gala celebration, a tribute to the civil rights pioneers including the women who were involved in the civil rights movement, along with a concert of civil rights era music and a youth symposium. A host committee of District of Columbia residents, led by D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, has also planned more than 20 free events across the city for the thousands of visitors to the Nation’s Capitol.
The memorial is located on a four-acre site on West Potomac Park along the Tidal Basin where thousands of visitors come each spring to witness the splendor of the Cherry Blossoms. Situated among the trees is the plaza where a 28-foot boulder stands called the Mountain of Despair through which every visitor will enter. In front is a solitary 30-foot stone called the Stone of Hope, from which Dr. King’s image emerges, gazing over the Tidal Basin toward the Jefferson Memorial.
A 450-foot inscription wall surrounding the stone features 14 quotes from Dr. King engraved into granite that convey four fundamental and recurring themes reflected throughout his life – democracy, justice, hope and love. Natural elements including water, stone and trees enhance the beauty of the site.
The address of the memorial is 1964 Independence Ave., N.W., which is symbolic of the year when Dr. King stood over President Lyndon B. Johnson’s shoulder as he signed the Civil Rights Bill, Johnson said.
“We didn’t plan it that way,” Johnson said, “it just happened. I guess you can call it divine