While Dr. King's gaze appears to be directed at the Jefferson Memorial, he is in fact staring toward the horizon, looking at future hope for humanity.
In August, 2011, one of the most influential civil rights leader in history of the United States found his place on the National Mall, alongside the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial remembers a man who faced the frustration of racial discrimination with patience and determination needed to help turn the nation around.
A Stone of Hope
A quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous 1963 "I have a Dream" speech, given from the nearby steps of the Lincoln Memorial, serves as the theme for the memorial. In his speech, King encouraged his listeners, saying that "With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope." At the memorial, King is remembered as the stone of hope which he had spoken of.
As visitors approach the MLK Memorial, they are presented with a giant white granite "mountain of despair". The center of this mountain is pulled out into the center of the Memorial, and the likeness of Dr. King is carved into this 30' tall piece, representing a "stone of hope".
A 450' wall of granite panels graces the memorial's "mountain of despair" with several inscriptions of quotes (some paraphrased) from Martin Luther King's speeches. While none of the wall's quotes come from King's famous "I have a dream" speech, an inscription on the monument's "stone of hope": "out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope", representing the theme of the memorial, is from that speech.
The "stone of hope" also contains the paraphrased inscription: "I Was a Drum Major for Justice, Peace, and Righteousness". This text was taken from King's quote "If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter." The paraphrased version has caused significant controversy, arguably taking away Dr. King's humility, and has been ordered to be corrected.
The quotes from the inscription wall read:
- "We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice."
- "Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that."
- "I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant."
- "Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in."
- "I oppose the war in Vietnam because I love America. I speak out against it not in anger but with anxiety and sorrow in my heart, and above all with a passionate desire to see our beloved country stand as a moral example of the world."
- "If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective."
- "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."
- "I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits."
- "It is not enough to say "We must not wage war." It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it. We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war, but on the positive affirmation of peace."
- "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
- "Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies."
- "We are determined here in Montgomery to work and fight until justice runs down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream."
- "We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience."
- "True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice."
A Greater meaning
The MLK memorial was created to show the attributes which Dr. King stood for. In particular, democracy, justice, and hope were kept in mind in the creation of the monument, and the selection of inscriptions. The monument is placed to create a "line of leadership", located in line with the Jefferson Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial. The Washington Monument and Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial are also nearby. In this location, Dr. King stands among some of the greatest icons in US history.
The MLK Memorial is located on the western shore of the Tidal Basin, a scenic area just south of the National Mall. The memorial is located about 1 mile from Smithsonian Station, and about 1.2 miles from Foggy Bottom Station.
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- Head West on Independence Ave. for about 1 mile, across the tidal basin. The monument will be on your left along the shore of the basin.
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- Travel south on 23rd St SW. until you reach the Lincoln Memorial.
- Continue around the Lincoln memorial until your reach Independence Ave.
- Take a left on Independence Ave. The memorial will be a short distance on the right.