WASHINGTON (US): Martin Luther King Jr stood 30 feet (9 meters) tall as a memorial to him was unveiled on Monday, the first on the National Mall in the nation’s capital not dedicated to a war, president or white man.
Fifteen years after a Congressional Joint Resolution in 1996 to establish a memorial to honor King, the four-acre site on the Tidal Basin between the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials opened to the public for the first time. “From a geometrical standpoint it’s on a direct line between the Lincoln Memorial and Jefferson Memorial,” said Bill Line, spokesman for the National Park Service.
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Visitors will walk through two massive white granite halves of the “Mountain of Despair” to reach the “Stone of Hope,” from which the sculpture of King emerges. The winning design from an international contest was inspired by the line from King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”
Behind King’s sculpture, on either side of the mountain, is a 450-foot-long (137 meter) wall inscribed with 14 quotations from the famous orator’s speeches, sermons, and writings. His arms are folded, with one hand holding his rolled-up Dream speech, according to sculptor Master Lei Yixin, who is a Chinese citizen.
“Dr. King’s vision is still living, in our minds; we still miss him, we still need him,” said Yixin through a translator, who described the sculpture the most important of his life. “I am trying to present Dr. King as ready to step out … this is King’s spirit, to judge people from their character, not race, color or background.” Yixin and a team carved and assembled the stone and mountain from 159 blocks of granite.
The memorial will be presented to President Barack Obama and dedicated in a celebration on August 28, marking the anniversary of the Dream speech delivered from the steps of the nearby Lincoln Memorial 48 years ago. King, the youngest man to have received the Nobel Peace Prize and the leader of the American Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 60s, led a peaceful march on Washington in 1963.
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A crowd of 250,000 heard his DREAM speech at the march, five years before his assassination in Memphis in 1968. A joint venture team broke ground on the site nearly five years ago, and the “Build the Dream” Campaign of the National Memorial Project Foundation, headed by President and CEO Harry Johnson, has raised $112 of the $120 million needed.
The team consists of ROMA Design Group, the winner of the competition to design the memorial; architectural and engineering firm McKissack & McKissack; Turner Construction Company; Tompkins Builders, Inc. and the Gilford Corporation. “Dr. King championed a movement that draws from the deep well of America’s potential for opportunity,” said Johnson, a lawyer and former president of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. King belonged to the fraternity.
The expression of King’s sculpture was created from a collage of images that covered all four walls of Yixin’s studio. King’s mouth is a grim line, his brow is furrowed and his gaze intense as he looks off into the distance. One visitor to the new memorial said she believes King would be pleased if he could see how far the United States has come since the 1960s.
“He would be ecstatic because President Obama is in the White House and that is a huge step,” said Nydria Humphries, who hung on the fence outside before the memorial opened to the the public. “That’s all MLK stood for,” she added. “If we can just learn to live together, then we all can have a better life.”