This Monday, Jan. 21, the nation will celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the inauguration of Barack Obama for his second term as the nation’s first African-American president. Earlier this week, on his MSNBC television show, Politics Nation, Rev. Al Sharpton asked this question of viewers: “Should a statue of Barack Obama be erected on Mount Rushmore or should he have his own memorial?”
This remind me of a similar question as to whether Dr. King should have a memorial erected in his honor, and if so, just where should such a monument be located?
Fortunately, the question of Dr. King’s monument has been settled in the beautiful 30-foot-tall sculpture of the civil rights leader and Baptist preacher has been erected at the northwest corner of the Tidal Basin on the National Mall. The actual address of the monument is 1964 Independence Avenue, SW. This address was chosen to commemorate the year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law.
The entire memorial covers four acres and includes an inscription wall featuring fourteen great quotations from Dr. King’s speeches and sermons. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was omitted in order to highlight some of his lesser known but equally powerful speeches.
Last July, I had the good fortune to visit the monument I had heard so much about. It was a hot, smoldering day, and I decided to embark upon what was said to be a mile walk from my hotel to the National Mall. After what was surely two plus miles, I seriously considered turning back. Finally, after asking many tourists and natives along the way as to just how much further it was to the monument, I pressed on, and I’m glad I did.
The King Memorial is truly one of the nation’s and the world’s most breathtakingly beautiful monuments ever erected. After more than 20 years of planning, collaborative fundraising, and construction, the white stone monument sculptured by Chinese artist, Lei Yixin, was opened to the public on Aug. 22, 2011 marking the 48th anniversary of King’s historic “I have A Dream” speech, delivered on the National Mall.
In this week’s s StreetBeat, I asked Austin residents what they would talk about or ask Dr. King if they could go back in time and have a conversation with him. The responses were so diverse and sincere that it started me thinking about what I would ask of or say to Dr. King.
If given a chance, I would ask him about an incident that had a great impact on my life. Shortly before he was assassinated, Dr. King visited Chicago and took a tour of the newly erected and opened Benjamin Banneker Elementary School located at 6656 S. Normal in the heart of Englewood.
Dr. King stopped by because at that time, Banneker was one of the first, if not the first, Chicago public schools built and named in honor of a black man.
I remember that day because I actually met Dr. King. I remember standing on the stairs with my young classmates holding out our little hand so Dr. King could touch them. At the time, I really didn’t know of his greatness; I just knew he was someone special and that my mother would be glad to know I actually touched his hand.
Dr. King walked through the building and, to the best of my recollection, touched the hand of every child on the stairs and along the hallway. It was thrilling. I still remember the joy my parents expressed when I showed them my hand and explained how I had met Martin Luther King.
Dr. King visited Chicago often; in fact, for a short time, he and his wife, Coretta, lived in a Greystone at 1550 S. Hamlin. I’m sure he would have many fond memories of his Chicago visits, but I wonder, truly wonder, if he would remember that day at Banneker, and if he has any idea as to what a difference he made in the lives of my classmates and me.
Wherever my classmates are now, I am sure they remember the day they met Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I know I do; it is one of my fondest memories. My visit to the King Memorial is now my second fondest memory of being in the presence of a great man, a man who changed the face of America with his doctrine of peace and non-violence.
Happy Birthday, Dr. King!