The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

Last Monday, on the national holiday that celebrates him, I had the pleasure of visiting and seeing for the first time the new memorial that commemorates Martin Luther King Jr. The memorial was officially dedicated last October, so this was in fact the first MLK Day to be celebrated during its existence.

To get there, I walked about three miles from the Georgetown campus, walking by the Watergate Hotel, the Kennedy Center and the Lincoln Memorial, as well as many other places of course, including the Saudi embassy. I got a pretty fun photo of it: I like to think the jeep represents the "Americanness" of oil consumption quite well, parked in front of the representation of our most well-known supplier.

Those sorts of things, however, were not the focus of my day. Instead, I walked briskly along the roads, stopping only to take pictures and at times to momentarily question if I was really walking the right way. After one or two questionable highway crossings, I did finally make it to the National Mall and to the MLK Memorial, which lies just between the Korean War Memorial and the FDR Memorial, set against the Tidal Basin on the exact opposite shore from the dome that houses the likeness of Jefferson.

The water wasn't what I saw first, however. Once I got by the last stoplight and a long line of cars itching to get out, I found myself standing in front of two large, arched stones - a granite gateway to take me away from the world, so to speak, blocking out the streets and traffic and giving me only... the unknown.


I wasn't quite clueless as to what I'd find beyond those stones. I knew there would be a huge statue of Dr. King, and I'd even seen a few pictures of it. Still, there was no way to replicate the sense of excitement I had as I walked through the stones and saw another large stone, as tall as the others. I could only see its rough-hewn backside, and my anticipation grew as I slowly edged counter-clockwise around it from a distance, moving through the crowds and - as much as I could - keeping my eye on that central stone, which I knew was what everyone had come for.


As you can see in the picture above, what I first saw plainly was the message that encapsulates the whole idea of the monument: Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope. I also began to glimpse more and more of the statue, and when I saw him plainly, he was quite a sight to see.


Just as much as all the stone, however, and the walls which exhibited many of Dr. King's quotes, I valued seeing all of the people in that place. The area wasn't packed shoulder-to-shoulder from the walls to the basin, for sure. It was quite full, however, and certainly blew out of the water any thought I could have entertained that a chilly day in the middle of winter might not bring many visitors. Most importantly, everywhere I looked I found smiles and gladness - and I could not but help to join in that feeling of community, content as I had been in my previous pensive solitude. My sincerest hope is that those smiles represented in some small way the sort of community and the sort of love that Dr. King was looking for in this country. He knew quite well during his life that there were many problems in our society, even after - especially after - the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. Were he alive today, growing old at the age of 83, he'd also know well the injustices that continue to plague us - the inequalities, the poverty, the denial of civil rights. All the same, we can all feel hope, and we will always, always have love to win the day.


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