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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

“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.”


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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