Monday, August 29, 2011

The Man Becomes Monument with MLK Addition to National Mall

Sunday, August 28th, was the 48th anniversary of the now-renown speech given by Dr. Martin Luther King, Civil Rights activist and Baptist pastor, as part of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Outlining inequalities in the government's and the peoples' treatment of African-Americans, King declared that, a century after the Emancipation Proclamation, "The life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination." He continued:
One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition.
A video of the full speech is embedded below, and audio-only versions and transcripts are also widely available.

Hailed for encouraging Americans to protest peacefully for racial equality under the law, King's message was a sharp contrast to that of his contemporary, Malcolm X (née Malcolm Little), who famously demanded in 1965 that racial justice be established in the country, "By any means necessary." The two men continue to rival one another in practical and academic debates on how racial equality can best be achieved, but it was the philosophy of non-violence that garnered Dr. King the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, and it was this same philosophy -- rooted in Dr. King's beliefs as far back as his high school years in 1944 -- cited by Congress in December, 1995, when authorizing the fundraising that would enable a memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King to be built on Washington D.C.'s National Mall.

In discussions about the Monument on the Senate floor, the then-Senator for Maryland, Paul Sarbanes, quoted King's wife, Coretta:

Sarbanes went on to add:

Sunday, August 28th, was to be the culmination of these efforts -- by Dr. King (and Malcolm X), to see racial equality brought to the United States; by the United States government, to give its citizens a voice in their destiny and representation at the fullest level; and by the work of many others, from those who were a part of the Civil Rights Movement to those who aided the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity in their goals to fund the monument. Until the interruption caused by Hurricane Irene, the day was to be the official dedication of the completed monument to Martin Luther King, Jr., located at 1964 Independence Avenue, on the National Mall.

The MLK Monument is unique in several ways. It is the first monument on the Mall that does not commemorate either a war, or a president, or a white man. It is the first on the Mall designed by a Chinese national (Lei Yixin), and was built using both labor and granite from China -- points of public controversy for a monument to an American historical icon, particularly one whose life work sought representation for marginalized groups in America.

These issues aside, there is a wealth of additional information available about the new MLK Monument. The Monument's Web site features information about the development of the project, as well as its conceptualization, including a virtual tour of the site (embedded below).

The Washington Post has compiled visual and statistical information about the monument and its individual components, and a photographic collage that allows viewers to explore the monument from all sides.

Click the image to view The WaPo's article on the MLK Monument.

One cannot argue with Coretta King in how rare Dr. King's accomplishments were. Does the Monument pay tribute enough? Taking the information above as a whole, what are your feelings about the Monument to Dr. Martin Luther King? How does it speak to his contributions to Civil Rights and to human rights? How has his work affected your own life, and how does Dr. King's work continue to progress the national conversation about race relations? Is there more work to be done?

When the new date for the official dedication is announced, an event where President Obama is scheduled to speak, we will add an update to the Gov Info blog. In the meantime, please feel free to use the comments box below to share your own thoughts about the Monument or about Dr. King's work toward racial equality.

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