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New monument explores significance of Martin Luther King Jr.'s life

In Washington, newly dedicated Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial attracts pilgrimage of visitors.
BY JOE HIGHT Published: January 8, 2012

Thousands of spectators gazed at the newly dedicated Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on a recent cloudy Saturday afternoon. Children used their fingers to trace the letters on the quotations along the wall that surrounds the 30-foot monument seemingly carved out of a mountain. Others posed for photos in front of the monument, the entrance to the area, anywhere that seemed significant. Some sat staring at it or carefully reading each of the 14 quotations inscribed on the wall surrounding it.

The diverse crowd seemed in a reverent awe created by the sense that they were among the first visitors to the monument.

As a man played his saxophone for donations in the background, one woman walking toward the monument paused and quietly proclaimed to others around her: “Amazing, isn't it!”

Located near the Roosevelt Memorial and between the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials, the monument dedicated to the late civil rights leader has attracted a seeming pilgrimage of visitors from throughout the country.

Those have included Oklahomans.

Sandy Trudgeon and her husband, Jon, took their grandson, Thomas Isaacson, for his first visit to Washington as a 10th birthday present. One stop was the long walk to the King memorial.

“There was a wonderful, joyous feeling around it, for a person who sacrificed his life for a cause. There was a lot of pride and joy in people looking at it,” said Trudgeon, of Oklahoma City, whose grandson is from Fort Collins, Colo.

“He was a man with a mission, an overwhelming mission that was a mountain he had to overcome,” she added. “This is an absolutely stunning monument for a man who had ideas, ways to make things happen and a willingness to do anything he could to accomplish them.”

According to the memorial foundation's website, it is “conceived as an engaging landscape experience to convey four fundamental and recurring themes throughout Dr. King's life — democracy, justice, hope and love. Natural elements such as the crescent-shaped-stone wall inscribed with excerpts of his sermons, and public addresses will serve as the living testaments of his vision of America.” The centerpiece is the 30-foot “Stone of Hope” that features King's likeness.

The memorial's dedication, originally scheduled for August, was postponed until Oct. 16 because of Hurricane Irene. About 50,000 people attended the ceremony, which included remarks by President Barack Obama.

“For this day, we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s return to the National Mall. In this place, he will stand for all time, among monuments to those who fathered this nation and those who defended it; a black preacher with no official rank or title who somehow gave voice to our deepest dreams and our most lasting ideals, a man who stirred our conscience and thereby helped make our union more perfect,” Obama said in his speech that is posted at

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Martin Luther King Jr.

Memorial facts

It was authorized by joint resolutions of the U.S. House and Senate in 1996. President Bill Clinton signed a resolution starting construction in 1998.

It has and will cost $120 million to build and maintain. The Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation has raised more than $114 million thus far.

Groundbreaking was on Nov. 13, 2006; construction began in late 2009; it was opened to the public in August and dedicated in October.

The monument is framed by two large boulders, with a third boulder pushed forward with the image of King in it. It signifies what King said in his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963: “With this faith we will hew out of a mount of despair a stone of hope.”

A 450-foot crescent-shaped “Inscription Wall” contains 14 excerpts from King's public addresses and sermons. The earliest quotation comes from 1955 and the latest four days before his assassination in 1968. On the main boulder, there are two sayings: “OUT OF THE MOUNTAIN OF DESPAIR A STONE OF HOPE” and “I WAS A DRUM MAJOR FOR JUSTICE, PEACE AND RIGHTEOUSNESS.” Poet and author Maya Angelou said in September that the “drum major” paraphrase minimized King and should be changed. King's actual quotation that was given as if it were a eulogy for him was: “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.”

Sources: The Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project, The Washington Post and


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