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Building the Memorial - Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial (U.S. National Park Service)

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, a profound symbol of the civil rights movement in the United States, stands majestically in West Potomac Park, Washington D.C. This memorial, officially dedicated on August 28, 2011, marks the 48th anniversary of the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Dr. King, a Baptist minister and a pivotal figure in the American civil rights movement, was instrumental in ending the legal segregation of African American citizens in the U.S., contributing to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. His legacy is honored as the first African American individual memorialized on the National Mall.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial is situated on a four-acre site along the National Mall's Tidal Basin, adjacent to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and shares a direct line of sight between the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials. Its official address is 1964 Independence Avenue SW, in honor of the Civl Rights Act of 1964. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of the most prominent leaders of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. The most convenient way to reach the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial is by Metrobus or Metro. If traveling by bus, use the 32, 34 or 36 Metrobus routes. The closest Metro stop is Smithsonian, on the Orange, Blue and Silver lines. Of course, the memorial is in very close proximity to the other memorials surrounding the Tidal Basin. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There is no fee to visit. National Park Service rangers are on site to answer questions from 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Interpretive programs are available throughout the day and upon request.

Design and Selection

The journey to erect this memorial began in 1996 when Congress authorized Alpha Phi Alpha, Dr. King's fraternity, to establish a memorial in Washington, D.C. The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation organized a design competition, attracting 906 entries from around the world. The winning design, by ROMA Design Group, featured a stone with Dr. King’s image emerging from a mountain, inspired by a line from his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. This design includes a massive carved mountain, the "Mountain of Despair," and the "Stone of Hope," from which a sculpture of Dr. King emerges, symbolizing his vision and leadership.

Sculpting the Vision

The task of sculpting Dr. King's likeness was entrusted to Chinese artist Master Lei Yixin in 2007. Master Lei meticulously studied hundreds of photographs of Dr. King to capture his essence. The sculpture, along with the mountain, comprises 159 granite blocks, initially sculpted in China and later reassembled at the memorial site in Washington, D.C. Nick Benson, a renowned stone carver, completed the text engravings, including quotes from Dr. King's speeches and writings.

Symbolism and Controversy

The memorial is rich in symbolism. The Stone of Hope stands detached from the Mountain of Despair, signifying triumph over adversity. A wall of quotes represents Dr. King's ideals of peace, democracy, justice, and love. However, the memorial faced controversy over a paraphrased quote on the Stone of Hope, which was later removed to preserve the integrity of Dr. King's message.

Legacy and Location

The memorial's location is significant, aligning with the vision of Pierre L'Enfant and the McMillan Plan for Washington D.C., and connecting the Thomas Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials. This alignment symbolizes the historical journey of civil rights in America, from the Declaration of Independence to the emancipation of slaves, culminating in Dr. King's fight for equality.

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial stands not only as a tribute to a great leader but also as a reminder of the ongoing struggle for civil rights and equality in the United States and around the world.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library

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