WASHINGTON — 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 www.whitehouse.gov.
“And Dr. King would be the first to remind us that this memorial is not for him alone. The movement of which he was a part depended on an entire generation of leaders. … For their service and their sacrifice, we owe them our everlasting gratitude. This is a monument to your collective achievement.”
The Rev. George Young, pastor of the Holy Temple Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, has given several keynote speeches during Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Black Heritage Month events. Young said the monument being dedicated during the first black American's presidency has special significance to the community, especially that it was completed and dedicated during tough economic times. He added its location on the National Mall also is meaningful to anyone who participated in or remembers the civil rights movement.
“It is a wonderful sign of the movement and appreciation for the accomplishments of people of color,” he said.
Young said he has not seen the monument, but plans to travel to Washington after the first of the year. He said he's been amazed by photos showing the different angles of it, so “I can't wait to get up there to see it. It'll be like seeing the Lincoln monument for the first time.”
For Trudgeon, who did go there on that recent cloudy Saturday afternoon, the monument is “much more powerful in real life than the pictures ever made it look.”
“The resolution in his face is so wonderful. The focus in his eyes is so wonderful,” she said. “The quotes gave me a broader perspective of him. … We can never know enough about people who have led heroic lives.”
DID YOU KNOW?
Martin Luther King Jr.
Sources: The Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project www.mlkmemorial.org, The Washington Post and about.com.