I visited the new Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on August 22, the first day that the memorial was open to the public. Upon entering, I was immediately struck by the quotations on the inscription walls. (Read an interview with the stone carver, Nicholas Benson). My first reaction upon seeing the Stone of Hope containing the 30-foot tall statue of King was to say aloud, “Sweet Jesus, how far we’ve come.”
People of many different ethnicities strolled the grounds. Navy Yeoman Second Class Krystal B. said that the memorial said a lot about our country and added that it was “symbolic that this memorial comes forty years after his assassination.” Karlon S., on security detail for the memorial, said that he had been working at the memorial since August 2010 and had the pleasure of seeing the different parts of the memorial being assembled. “It will attract people from all walks of life,” said Karlon, who hails from Guyana, South America. “The memorial is in a strategic location. It is placed between two memorials: FDR and Lincoln. It is also the first memorial dedicated to a black man among the other great memorials on the tidal basin.”
Joan C. of New Mexico said, “I’ve admired him my whole life. This is fitting and has a wonderful impact on our nation. I love the quotes on the walls.” Lea S. said, “As a Jew, I have grown up with adversity and anti-Semitism. He is a beacon of light in the world. It is too bad that we lost him so early. I feel that he stands for the rights of all people.”
Joanne T. of western Canada was a bit miffed that King’s statue did not have a wedding ring. “He was married and he should have a ring on,” she said. “I was nine years old in 1964 and was shocked to see how he brought to light racial tensions in America. Race discrimination was not as blatant in Canada.”
I was able to speak with two friends who were visiting the Memorial, Tom B. and Mike R. Tom, who was in high school when the March on Washington took place, stated that he was living in Indiana at the time and the March on Washington was a topic of interest that he wrote about. “The March changed how the whole country thought about race and he brought to light the whole concept of nonviolence when there was no rioting as a result of the March,” said Tom. Mike added, “I’m impressed that so many people came out for the memorial. It is more drama than I expected.”
I wanted to hear from a young person under the age of twenty-five and talked with Whitney, a nineteen year old African American. “It is very empowering. It’s inspirational to get a glimpse of everyone seeing the memorial. It shows how important King was to society.”
I also talked with a mother and son from California, Kay and Ben H. Kay said, “It is very powerful. I grew up in Atlanta and was getting married the week of the March on Washington. I liked his stance on Vietnam. I was in Australia when King was killed and it just socked you in the gut. Kay’s son Ben stated, “The entryway is amazing!”
I also spoke briefly with a woman who asked to remain anonymous. She lives in the DC metropolitan area and is originally from the Philippines. She said, “It’s wonderful to see this. It’s time to have this.” I certainly agree with her assessment. It is definitely time to have a memorial dedicated to King. But sadly, I am reminded that his dream of equality for all is still not a reality. Although racial discrimination in the United States is no longer as overt as it was during the civil rights era, it still exists in a subtle form. A perfect example happened to me last Sunday evening at a restaurant in my beloved Old Town, Alexandria, Virginia. I was standing at the counter waiting to pay for my meal when a young white man walked up. The waitress proceeded to help him, although I had been waiting patiently to be served. This country has come a long way in race relations, however, it still has a ways to go before King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is fully realized.