Sunday, August 28, 2011

Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial and the Arab Spring

The Martin Luther King, Jr National Memorial, conceived in 1984 by King’s college fraternity and signed into legislation in 1996 by President Clinton, was to be dedicated today, but its dedication was postponed by the vast width of the rains of Hurricane Irene. It stands at 1964 Independence Ave, adjacent to the tidal basin and situated between the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials. (1964 is the year President Johnson signed, with King at his side, Civil Rights legislation.) Forty-eight years ago, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, King gave his “I Have A Dream” speech.

Two huge, granite stones, like a mountain, flank the Memorial’s entrance, symbolic of King’s words: “hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope,” and a thirty foot sculpture of King is carved in this ‘stone of hope.’ A 450 foot wall boasts fourteen quotes, no less relevant today, from King. At its ground breaking in 2006, President Clinton said of the monument to be built there, “The monument … will be but a physical manifestation of the monument already constructed in the lives and hearts of millions of Americans who are more just … because he lived.”

Johnetta Cole, Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, said of the monument that it conveys the “power and possibility of change.” She sees as apropos that “Dr. King rises out of a rock … solid and unshakeable.” “To honor and celebrate him,’ she adds, is done “not by our words but by our actions.” Rev. Jesse Jackson, activist and personal friend of King’s, intimates that this memorial compells Americans to “unfinished business” to “fight poverty, illiteracy, disease…”

Sculptor Lei Yixin of China, hoped to convey in King’s serious expression King’s “passion…for hope for the future.” But I think King would have smiled to have his memorial completed and unveiled in the year of the Arab Spring. Despite the violence in Libya, this popular uprising of the Arab world, especially in North Africa, is a bid for justice and liberty, a bid King knew much about.

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