Posts Tagged ‘Martin Luther King Jr Memorial’

At Last: Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Dedication

President Obama Speaking at the MLK, Jr. Memorial Dedication

Today the sun shined brightly as thousands of people headed to West Potomac Park to see the official dedication of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. Getting there is not easy and walking, especially today, was the best option. As we were a stone’s throw away from the memorial (we could see it), our efforts to get there were compounded by the sudden emergence of a road closure. Just like that pedestrians were halted. Throngs of people, of all ages, were turned around and rerouted through the World War II Memorial, passed the reconstruction of the reflecting pool, and by the Korean War Memorial.

Making our way to the MLK dedication past the WWII Memorial (on the right)

Michelle and Amy sporting our new hats

Our timing turned out to be perfect. We donned the white MLK Memorial baseball caps all attendees received, courtesy of Tommy Hilfiger, and then found the perfect spot to watch the ceremony. There was a baseball field shielded by barricades and carton boxes. We stood on the edge of this open space, using the boxes as a ledge, for what became our front row seats, minus the chairs, and an unobstructed view. The stage was in the distance, but the jumbo screens were not.

We arrived just as MLK’s daughter, Rev. Bernice King was finishing her remarks. We heard Martin Luther King, III, pay tribute to his father with his wife, Andrea, and daughter, Yolanda by his side.

A host of dignitaries followed including Reverend Jesse Jackson, Representative John Lewis, Ambassador Andrew Young, Reverend Joseph Lowry, Poet Nikki Giovanni, Reverend Al Sharpton, former newsanchor Dan Rather, entertainer Diahann Carroll, actress Cicely Tyson, 12-year-old actress Amandla Stenberg (she paid tribute to the four girls who perished in the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing in Birmingham in 1963), advocate Marian Wright Edelman, and MLK Memorial executives and corporate sponsors including General Motors (manufacturer of the presidential limo) and Tommy Hilfiger.

Rep. John Lewis

The crowd favorite was Al Sharpton, but my favorite was John Lewis. He reiterated King’s message of non-violence and said that King must be looked upon as one of the founding fathers of the New America, “King liberated a nation. … He finished what the Civil War could not.” Lewis, like many of the others, recalled King’s “I Have A Dream,” speech, but unlike the others Lewis is the only speaker from the March on Washington still alive. He was keeping the dream alive.

The First Family Arrives at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

Also keeping the dream alive was President Barack Obama. This Obama-friendly crowd erupted with shear joy when images of the first family arriving at the memorial were broadcast on the jumbotron. While the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. was main attraction, the President was right up there. And he seized the opportunity to tie the struggles of the civil rights movement to the struggles of today:

“If he [King] were alive today, I believe he would remind us that the unemployed worker can rightly challenge the excesses of Wall Street without demonizing all who work there; that the businessman can enter tough negotiations with his company’s union without vilifying the right to collectively bargain.  He would want us to know we can argue fiercely about the proper size and role of government without questioning each other’s love for this country — (applause) — with the knowledge that in this democracy, government is no distant object but is rather an expression of our common commitments to one another.  He would call on us to assume the best in each other rather than the worst, and challenge one another in ways that ultimately heal rather than wound.”

While Obama, and many of the earlier speakers, alluded to work not done, they also remembered the struggles of years past. What resonated most for me was the recognition that change is not easy or quick and it’s about more than passing laws, but enforcing them, as evident by almost a decade of time between the unanimous Brown v. Board of Education decision and the integration of the University of Alabama, the last public institution of higher learning to admit African-American students under pressure from the Kennedy Administration [see

President Obama

“Our work is not done,” said Obama.  “And so on this day, in which we celebrate a man and a movement that did so much for this country, let us draw strength from those earlier struggles.  First and foremost, let us remember that change has never been quick.  Change has never been simple, or without controversy.  Change depends on persistence.  Change requires determination.  It took a full decade before the moral guidance of Brown v. Board of Education was translated into the enforcement measures of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, but those 10 long years did not lead Dr. King to give up.  He kept on pushing, he kept on speaking, he kept on marching until change finally came. “

These words are what stood out most to me and that’s because I’m deeply entrenched in writing the biography of Nicholas Katzenbach who was one of the key architects of that change on the federal side.

With much to ponder, including the fact that the first African-American president dedicated the first monument on the mall to a non-elected, and, non-caucasian, man  between memorials to President Lincoln and President Jefferson, it was time to head home. As we did, we heard Stevie Wonder singing  “Happy Birthday.”

Stevie Wonder

Aretha Franklin after the Dedication Ceremony

We were moving with the masses until we hit the memorial itself, glimpsed the presidential motorcade leave, and backtracked to an opening where the park service was letting people through. Again timing was on our side. Being among the first through the fence we ended up seeing some of the day’s VIPs leaving the dedication including Aretha Franklin who performed at the dedication, and, Jesse Jackson who was among the speakers.

Jesse Jackson Greets the Crowd

To read about my first time seeing the MLK, Jr.  Memorial click here:

And, to read more about the memorial itself click here:

Jesse Jackson leaving the MLK, Jr. Dedication

Take Three

Turns out third time is the charm. For weeks I’ve been looking forward to the dedication of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. Last night I finally made it there. It was worth the wait.

My first attempt was last Thursday, August 25.  The memorial opened earlier that week for what was originally billed as “DC Day,” but all were welcome. I thought because I was local I would be one step ahead, but I was wrong. I knew where to park, but so did everyone else. Ohio Drive was packed. Even though it was late, there were no spots. By the time I finally found parking I was a mile away. The sun had long set and, it was dark. Very dark. Lamp posts lined Ohio Drive, but they were dark too.

I followed the shadows in front of me towards Independence Avenue. But before we got there we hit a path, more like a road. It led to a barricade. It was not an entrance. I pulled out my phone for some light and more information. And that’s when I learned the dedication had just been cancelled.

Now I was really on a mission. I continued down Ohio Drive, past more barricades, and rows of port-a-potties. I could see two big video screens and hundreds of chairs. I snapped photos along the way of what was to be.

I arrived at the entrance and saw people streaming out. But unfortunately I could not go in.  This time I was at the right place, but wrong time. The memorial closed at 10 p.m. and it was now a few minutes past the hour. My hopes of seeing the memorial before the dedication, and even the dedication, were gone.

Sunday came, Irene left, and the Memorial opened. Plans to go that afternoon, and then that evening, evaporated. But not for hundreds of others who made it there.

Maybe that’s why I appreciated it even more on it’s third official day and my third attempt. Park Ranger, Don Stanko, provided a silver lining, not only with his vast knowledge of the MLK, Jr. Memorial, but other local DC monuments. Who knew there was a monument to the Titanic in DC? But, I digress.

What Stanko said was that most people who came for the dedication would not have been able to see the monument, but on Sunday all had access just as it should be. For me the silver lining was meeting 96-year-old, Willie Flood. He’s lived in DC for 61 years and heard Dr. King speak on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1957 and again during the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. When asked what he thought of the memorial he simply said, “It’s beautiful.” I agree. It is every bit as spectacular as they say, from the panoramic views of the Jefferson Memorial to the giant life-like sculpture of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his poetic words etched around him, it is a site to behold.