baby's last post
Months after my last entry, over a month after the following's actual publication in GO Magazine, and 10 days after MLK Day... it's never too late...
The Martin Luther King Memorial Foundation Begins to Build Their Own Long-Awaited Dream
On the grounds of the National Mall, we are afforded the great honor of walking amongst heroes and legends. From George Washington and Abraham Lincoln to all those who fought in World War II, the greatest men to live for and be lost to American history are memorialized through statues and sculptures. On November 13, ground broke for the newest national monument and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. took his rightful place alongside those great men.
Exactly 50 years after the United States Supreme Court declared Alabama and Montgomery laws requiring segregated buses illegal, thousands gathered along the edge of the Tidal Basin, midway between the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, to attend the groundbreaking ceremony for the Martin Luther King Memorial. Undoubtedly, millions more around the world joined them in spirit to recognize this historic event:
For the first time, a national monument is to be erected in honor of an African American. Furthermore, it will be the first to recognize a man of peace.
“[This memorial] will be a reminder of Martin Luther King’s conviction that in the struggle for freedom, equality and justice, non-violence – his passion for peace – is the most effective strategy,” said former president Bill Clinton. “When the real battlefield is the human heart, civil disobedience works better than suicide bombing; fighting your opponents with respect and reason works better than aspersion and attack.”
Ten years and one day prior to addressing the crowd at the groundbreaking ceremony, Clinton signed the Congressional legislation authorizing the establishment of the memorial. It is no wonder he received a standing ovation on the day they began to build what he called “but a physical manifestation of the monument already constructed in the lives and hearts of millions of Americans who are more just, more decent, more successful, more perfect, because he [Martin Luther King Jr.] lived.”
In addition to Clinton, a number of high profile speakers brightened the otherwise cloudy morning. Among them were Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill.), renowned poet Maya Angelou, and talk show host Oprah Winfrey. The stage was also honored by three of King’s children, as well as his fellow leaders of the civil rights movement, including the Reverend Jesse Jackson.
Obama, like King himself once did, shared with the crowd a future that he imagined for his children. He envisioned bringing his two daughters to the memorial upon its completion, which is slated for the spring of 2008. He pictured them asking about the man to whom this plot of land was dedicated and he guided his audience along the train of thought that brought him to his answer.
“Unlike the others commemorated in this place, Dr. Martin Luther King was not a president of the United States,” said Obama. “He was not a hero of foreign wars. He never had much money. And while he lived, he was reviled at least as much as he was celebrated.”
He continued, “By his own accounts, he was a man frequently wracked with doubt; a man not without flaws; a man who, like Moses before him, more than once questioned why he had been chosen for so arduous a task: the task of leading a people to freedom, the task of healing the festering wounds of a nation’s original sin. And yet, lead a nation, he did.”
Without question, King was a man who ushered America into a new age. Through his work and his words, he inspired the country to be as great as it set out to be when the Declaration of Independence was first conceived. He led the movement that insisted that all men, regardless of skin color, truly are created equal.
Speaking at the groundbreaking, Winfrey recognized King’s paving the way, affording her all the opportunities she has had and all the successes she has reaped from them. She expressed her deep gratitude to him and “all of those who walked the line for us.”
“It is because of Dr. King and all those who worked with him that I stand,” she said. “And because of them, I have a voice that can be heard… Because he was the seed of the free, I get to be the blossom and live the dream that he dreamed for his children… and we all are the children of his fortuitous dream.”
Winfrey echoed the words King, in August 1963, famously bellowed across the country from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, just a half-mile away from where his memorial will stand. The same “I Have a Dream” speech inspired the design for the memorial, on top of the revolution of a nation.
Sitting on a four-acre plot of land hugging the Tidal Basin and its prominent ring of cherry trees, the memorial will welcome visitors through its entryway, carved out of a single massive boulder, symbolizing the “mountain of despair” he spoke of in his most recognized speech. From this opening and facing the water, on the horizon, there will stand the section hewn out of that mountain – the “stone of hope.” King’s profile will be etched on it, along with these legendary words:
"When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the 'unalienable Rights of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness'...We refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation."
This design of the ROMA Design Group was selected, from over 900 submissions, by a panel of international architects and designers. ROMA is an interdisciplinary firm of architects, landscape architects and planners, which is based in San Francisco and does work throughout the United States and abroad.
Some, including the current president of the United States, might say that the road to building this sure-to-be-beautiful memorial began ten years ago, when Clinton signed that legislation. Others might say it began over twenty years ago, in January 1984, when a group of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity brothers, including George Sealey, met to first propose the building of the memorial at the Fraternity’s Board of Directors meeting. According to the Martin Luther King Memorial Foundation website, the history of the memorial began the day the man it commemorates was born – January 15, 1929.
Perhaps they at the Foundation chose to note this date as their starting point because King’s heroism was not just posthumously recognized. Unlike heroes of war, this hero of peace is not remembered for how he died; instead, he is celebrated for how he lived. It is the mission of the Foundation—whose charter was approved in May 1998—to honor the life and work of King, by establishing this memorial.
President and CEO of the Foundation, Harry E. Johnson, Sr. said in a radio interview with Tavis Smiley, “What will happen when this thing is erected, is that your children, your grandchildren, will be able to go to the Mall and see a Mall that is diversified and that is reflective of America. And that’s the most important issue today when we talk about building this memorial to Dr. King.”
Given his dream for little black children and little white children, it might be easy to overlook the fact that his accomplishments were not limited to the controversy between blacks and whites. His influence pushed to the forefront of American politics issues affecting all minorities and all Americans. He realized that there could not be equality for some if there was not equality for all.
In his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” written in April 1963, King wrote: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
It seems strange that such realizations were considered so radical, so recently, in the grand scheme of American history. Such obvious truths were only recognized by law less than 50 years ago, with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Too often, we take for granted those rights and liberties afforded to us, forgetting that we may do so only because great people before us – like King – lived, fought, and died for what was right.
To ensure that we do not forget, this memorial is being raised. King would doubtlessly be honored by the sentiment, just as he was when awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in December 1964, as well as the three or four hundred other awards he collected throughout his life. But he was not a man who required such recognition.
In fact, in response to this honor, he might have uttered the same words from his Nobel Prize acceptance speech: “I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind… I accept this prize on behalf of all men who love peace and brotherhood… for in the depths of my heart I am aware that this prize is much more than an honor to me personally.”
Perhaps the building of this memorial is indeed more of an honor to America who, in recognizing this great man, takes another step toward becoming that Promised Land he saw ahead for us.
“With this Martin Luther King Memorial, we can say proudly,” Maya Angelou said at the groundbreaking ceremony, before reciting poetry borrowed from Robert Hayden, “each of us can say proudly, ‘I am proud to be an American because my country is proud of me.’”
Throughout his life, King responded to all the humiliation, grief and suffering dealt to him by America with great and unwavering love. Despite all the flaws he identified in it, this nation remained to him a bastion of opportunity and promise. It is because of this idealistic vision that he criticized his country and challenged it to become what it can and must become.
One year before his assassination, King spoke to his fellow countrymen about his concerns for their involvement in a foreign war—borrowing words from John F. Kennedy, another man stolen too soon from America’s timeline.
“Increasingly, by choice or by accident,” he said, “this is the role our nation has taken -- the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investment.”
He beseeched America to see in itself and become what he already saw in it: “America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values,” he said. “There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war.”
When he spoke these words, he had a different war in mind, but the sentiment should be familiar to all of us today. He warned, “The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.”
Though he has already gone down in history as one of the greatest American heroes to ever live, he continues to leave with us lessons to be learned. Now with this memorial, his teachings will be etched into stone. We will have the opportunity to lay our hands upon them and tread on the same even grass where his monumental memory will stand forever, altering the landscape of America, just as he did in his life.
So, this is officially my last post on this blog. Thanks to anyone who's ever read it! TTFN...