The northwest shore of Washington, DC’s Tidal Basin is the site of the city’s newest monument: a thirty-foot memorial statue of Martin Luther King, Jr set among Japanese cherry trees.
The memorial employs visual metaphors lifted from his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech—visitors to the site enter between two rough hewn boulders representing the “Mountain of Despair,” while Dr. King’s likeness abuts the “Stone of Hope”—but the fourteen quotations engraved along the outer wall are culled from lesser known addresses and writings.
Recently, King’s name has been invoked in association with such politically divergent personalities as Barack Obama (mostly by his supporters) and Glenn Beck (mostly by himself). Ironically, travesties like these can be blamed on the wider acceptance of much of King’s message. In today’s mainstream, King is an almost universally beloved historical figure, and that kind of popular adoration begets politically convenient revisionism.
In his own day, King and the movement he represented were seen by many as dangerous to the status quo, even seditious. (Remember, he was assassinated!) In the decades since his death, King’s legacy has been by turns reduced to polite buzzwords like “peace” and “equality” or truncated to include only his part in the black civil rights struggle, ignoring both his uncompromising condemnation of the war in Vietnam and his efforts to mobilize the nation’s poor, a move which took the civil rights movement beyond issues of race.
The incorporation of literal quotations from a variety of speeches ought to help present an authentic picture of the man and his message, something that’s sorely needed amid all the opportunistic MLK-hijacking.
The dedication ceremony for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial will commence at 11 am August 28 on the National Mall in DC. For more information, visit mlkmemorial.org
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