The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington
US President Barack Obama saluted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Sunday as a man who “stirred our conscience” and made the Union “more perfect,” rejoicing in the dedication of a monument
memorializing the slain civil rights leader's life and work.
“I know we will overcome,” Obama proclaimed, standing the 30-foot granite monument to King on the National Mall. “I know this,” the president said, “because of the man towering over us.”
Obama and his wife, Michelle, and Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, joined a host of civil rights figures for the dedication on the sun-splashed Mall. Designed as what King described as a stone of hope hewn from a mountain of despair, the memorial is the first to a black man on the National Mall and its parks. “He had faith in us,” said Obama, who was 6 when King was assassinated in 1968. Obama told the crowd, “And that is why he belongs on this Mall: Because he saw what we might become.”
The dedication has special meaning for the Obamas, and the first couple and daughters Malia and Sasha made a more private visit to the site on Friday night, before the crowds and the cameras arrived. Obama credits King with paving his way to the White House. Before his remarks, thepresident left a copy of an inaugural speech in a time capsule at the monument site.
In his talk, he touched on King's broad themes - equality, justice and peaceful resistance - as the nation confronts, 43 years later, some of the same issues of war, an economic crisis and a lingering distrust of government in some quarters
Referring to citizen protests against the wealthy and powerful that have spread from Wall Street and Washington, even abroad, Obama said: “Dr. King would want us to challenge the excesses of Wall Street without demonizing those who work there.”
The monument, situated between the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials in what the designers call a “line of leadership,” was 15 years in the making. Many speakers noted that its designers could not have predicted then that the monument would be dedicated by the nation's first black president.
Thousands of people gathered Sunday to give the new memorial a proper dedication on the National Mall after its opening in August.
The crowd, some of whom came out as early as 5 a.m., included people of all ages and races. Some women wore large Sunday hats for the occasion. Cherry Hawkins traveled from Houston with her cousins and arrived at 6 a.m. to be part of the dedication. They postponed earlier plans to attend the August dedication, which was postponed because of Hurricane Irene.
“I wanted to do this for my kids and grandkids,” Hawkins said. She expects the memorial will be in their history books someday. “They can say, 'Oh, my granny did that.'”
Actress Cicely Tyson said her contemporaries are passing the torch to a new generation and passed the microphone to 12-year-old Amandla Stenberg. The girl recalled learning about the civil rights movement in school and named the four young girls killed in a 1963 church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama. “As Dr. King said at their funeral, 'They didn't live long lives, but they lived meaningful lives,'” Amandla said.
As pastor of an Alabama church, King led the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955-56 that led to a US Supreme Court decision that declared unconstitutional laws requiring segregation on buses.
King then was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference which provided leadership to the growing civil rights movement and drew inspiration from the non-violent tactics used by Mahatma Gandhi.
King led the massive civil rights protest in Birmingham, Alabama, and wrote the inspirational “Lettere from a Birmingham Jail.” In 1963, he directed a peaceful civil rights march by 250,000 people in Washington where he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech with its vision of a color-blind society. The following year, Congress passed the landmark Civil Rights Act and at age 35 he became the youngest man to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. He was assassinated in 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was supporting a strike by sanitation workers.
The sculpture of King with his arms crossed appears to emerge from a stone extracted from a mountain. It was carved by Chinese artist Lei Yixin. The design was inspired by a line from the famous “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963: “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”
King's “Dream” speech during the March on Washington galvanized the civil rights movement.
King's older sister, Christine King Farris, said she witnessed a baby become “a great hero to humanity.” She said the memorial will ensure her brother's legacy will provide a source of inspiration worldwide for generations.
To young people in the crowd, she said King's message is that “Great dreams can come true and America is the place where you can make it happen.”
King's daughter, the Rev. Bernice King, said her family is proud to witness the memorial's dedication. She said it was a long time coming and had been a priority for her mother, Coretta Scott King, who died in 2006.
Bernice King and her brother Martin Luther King III said their father's dream is not yet realized. Martin Luther King III said the nation has “lost its soul” when it tolerates vast economic disparities, teen bullying, and having more people of color in prison than in college.
He said the memorial should serve as a catalyst to renew his father's fight for social and economic justice.
“The problem is the American dream of 50 years ago ... has turned into a nightmare for millions of people” who have lost their jobs and homes, King said.
The choir from King's historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta was scheduled to sing.
The nation's first black president, who was just 6 years old when King was assassinated in April 1968, will speak about the man he has said “gave his life serving others.”
Giovanni read her poem “In the Spirit of Martin,” and Franklin was to sing.