According to the history of Washington monuments, the National Memorial in honor of Dr. Martin Luther aKing, Jr. was completed with lightning speed and that by itself is a tribute to the quality of the man: his life, his work and his accomplishments. Notwithstanding, though he never held political or elective office; he was not the traditional celebrity; nor was he molded in the footsteps of the rich and the famous. But he was rich and famous in his service to his fellow man; many came to hear him speak; and when he dreamed, he dreamt of a world of peace and understanding among men (and women) – peace, “not just the absence of war,” he would say, “but the presence of justice.” That is the King that is being immortalized in Washington, D.C on August 28, 2011.
The National Memorial is located on a four-acre site that is situated adjacent to the FDR Memorial, and in a direct line between the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials. Congress passed a Joint Resolution in 1996 authorizing Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. to establish a Memorial in Washington, D.C. honoring Dr. King, who will be standing literally as a King among men (presidents).
As the project began to unfold, its magnitude created many bumps in the road, but as Dr. King would say, “You can disagree without becoming disagreeable.” Those bumps were smoothened out as time went by. Though much significance can be attributed to the unveiling of the Dr. King National Memorial on the 48th anniversary of his historic March on Washington, one thing is certain: looking at the events of today, though some progress has been made, ‘the Dream Is Still Unfulfilled.’
McKissack & McKissack, the oldest minority-owned architecture firm in the country, headed up the design team that consisted of construction, architect and building entities. The centerpiece of the memorial is a three-story high sculpture of Dr. King that is made of granite symbolically reflected the character of the man – unyielding, enduring and steadfast. There are walls around the memorial on which selected portions of Dr. King’s speeches and sermons are etched. Those selections were chosen by a group of historians including Maya Angelou, Cornel West, the late John Hope Franklin and Henry Louis Gates.
The controversy over the choice of a Chinese sculptor was one of the bumps in the road and Martin Luther King III seemed to have mitigated that by saying that he’s seen “probably 50 sculptures of my dad, and [I] would say 47 of them are not good reflections” but that “this particular artist – he’s done a good job.” And it appeared that the focus on getting the memorial completed in a timely manner, overcame any and all squabbling.
THE CELEBRATION AND ITS SIGNIFICANCE
The August-28 dedication coincides with the 48th anniversary of Dr. King’s historic March on Washington and his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Dr. King’s protégés, VIPs celebrities and top entertainers are scheduled to participate in the dedication ceremonies. Beginning with President Barack Obama, he will deliver remarks and it is significant to note that he has come the furthest in the march of progress that Dr. King dreamt about.
Those who walked and worked with Dr. King will be Congressman John Lewis; Ambassador Andrew Young; Rev. Jesse Jackson; Rev. Joseph Lowery; Julian Bond and Dr. King’s children: Martin Luther King III, Dexter King and Bernice King.
VIPs and celebrities include Berry Gordy Jr. Clarence Avant, Rev. Al Sharpton, General Colin Powell, Alexis Hermann, Maya Angelou, Myrlie Evers, Vernon Jordan, Russell Simmons, Tom Brokaw, Alpha Phi Alpha chairman, Herman “Skip” Mason Jr.; members of the faith-based community, Chairman of General Motors, Dan Akerson; Tommy Hilfiger and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, whose department oversees memorials and national parks. Entertainers include Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Jamie Foxx, Michael Baisden, Tom Joyner, George Lucas and many others.
The men, women children who witness the dedication will be witness bearers to the work of Dr. King. Many present had marched with Dr. King; had been to jail with him; had withstood the barbs and insults that he endured; and championed the cause of a King national holiday including Stevie Wonder who penned a tune, “Happy Birthday,” in honor of the his birthday-holiday.
For the children present, Dr. King has allowed most of them an improved measure of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness than he had. And to be able to be much more than they could have been had he not lived the life that he did.
WHAT WOULD DR. KING SAY?
In looking at the legacy that Dr. King left, his words in 1967 – April 4 – would be appropriate today substituting Vietnam with Iraq and/or Afghanistan and/or Libya – the dream is still unfulfilled. There are striking parallels between causes and effects of the 21st century wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, and the 20th century war in Vietnam; and it is only fitting to highlight those predictions of yesterday with the rhetoric and the actions of today.
Projections and predictions for the future are often based on the experiences of the past – for the good and also for the bad.
In a part of Dr. King’s 1967 speech, he exhorted: “For nine years following 1945 we denied the people of Vietnam the right of independence. For nine years we vigorously supported the French in their abortive effort to re-colonize Vietnam.
“…Before the end of the war we were meeting eighty percent of the French war costs. Even before the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu, they began to despair of the reckless action, but we did not. We encouraged them with our huge financial and military supplies to continue the war even after they had lost the will. Soon we would be paying almost the full costs of this tragic attempt at re-colonization…”
It appeared that the American-French alliance has never weakened or waivered in aggressing upon non-European nations: Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya; all at the expense of a ruinous financial toll for military supplies, and human suffering, as Dr. King noted about Vietnam.
Further on Dr. King continued, “… The only change came from America as we increased our troop commitments in support of governments which were singularly corrupt, inept and without popular support. All the while the people read our leaflets and received regular promises of peace and democracy — and land reform. Now they languish under our bombs and consider us — not their fellow Vietnamese –the real enemy. They move sadly and apathetically as we herd them off the land of their fathers into concentration camps where minimal social needs are rarely met. They know they must move or be destroyed by our bombs. So they go — primarily women and children and the aged….”
The General Motors Foundation and Chevrolet will serve as the Dedication Chair and Dedication Co-Chair is The Tommy Hilfiger Corporate Foundation. Dedication Vice Chairs include Aetna, Boeing, BP, Coca-Cola, Delta Air Lines, GE McDonalds, Travelers, and Wal-Mart Stores. Major donors include: General Motors, Tommy Hilfiger Corporate Foundation, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, NBA, The Walt Disney Company, Coca-Cola Foundation, The Ford Motor Company Fund, MetLife Foundation, Toyota, Verizon Foundation.
COMMENTS FROM SOME WHO KNEW DR. KING AND THE REST, MOST CERTAINLY, KNEW ABOUT HIM.
REV. JESSE JACKSON: “Dr. King was a source of inspiration. Blacks in the South, under the laws of oppressive segregation, were held down by fear; so he had to inspire them to choose hope over fear. Blacks in the North and in the West, it wasn’t so much fear as it was cynicism: the belief that we could not win. Many Blacks went North and West where there was a little more dignity than the Southern oppression; they were free but not equal. Dr. Kings mission was to change the law. It was a struggle to end (unjust) law. But it was also to take our consciousness beyond just legal oppression to economic justice. Many of our freedom allies would not be our economic allies. Dr. King last campaign was to end the war in Vietnam and a war on poverty; and that’s where we are today.”
XERNONA CLAYTON: “Dr. King was such an usual man … a real man, in that he was honest and truthful to his convictions. He felt that he never wanted any monument, any honor, or anything bestowed or directed to him, personally. If he was here and we needed his approval to have this, we would never have this monument. But we have to keep in mind that this was a man who … when he got the Nobel (Peace) Prize, and got a monetary attachment with it, he gave it all away. He was unselfish … a selfless man who cared more about everybody else than himself.
REV. JOSEPH LOWERY: “I think it’s a great honor for Dr. King and for the nation. I think he belong in that environment on the mall because I consider him to be one of the fathers of the nation … having led the nation to a new era of racial justice in his lifetime.”
BEN JEALOUS: “This is an historic moment in civil rights and American history,” stated President Jealous. “I look forward to honoring the life and legacy of Dr. King on the eve of the unveiling of his national memorial. The work of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is not over. The civil rights community must ensure that his dream becomes a reality”.
MYRLIE EVERS-WILLIAMS: “I am honored to be a part of this historic occasion, for the Dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. The honoring of this Great American Hero also inspires us to remember the Great Heroes and Sheroes of the Civil Rights Movement. Through the Civil Rights Movement, America has seen many positive changes in this ongoing struggle for Equal Opportunity and Justice. The Vision statement for this memorial dedicates the memorial to the Tenants of Dr. King’s American Dream of Freedom, Democracy, and Opportunity for all. There remains so much to be done to achieve this Dream for all American citizens. We have a responsibility to enhance the Legacy of Dr. King and the many other Civil Rights leaders who gave their lives, by being activist citizens on behalf of all, but especially those who are less fortunate.”