A look at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize winner, would have turned 93 on Saturday.
In 1996, the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation held a design competition. A total of 906 entrants joined the competition, though jurors only knew the registration number of each entry. After three days, the panel narrowed the submissions down to 23 finalists. Unable to reach a decision, the jury asked the 23 finalists to submit a fourth revision of their design.
In 2000, the judges selected Roma Design Group’s plan for a stone with King’s image emerging from a mountain. The plan’s theme referenced a line from King’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech: “With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.”
The foundation interviewed and hired Chinese sculptor Lei Yixin in 2007.
A 30-foot fiberglass replica of the entire sculpture served as a reference for the stone sculpture. The sculpture and the mountain are composed of 159 granite blocks that were transported to Lei’s studio in Changsha, China, where he assembled and sculpted 80% of the artwork. It was then disassembled and transported by ship to Baltimore and reassembled at the memorial. Lei completed the last 20% of the sculpting on-site in Washington, D.C.
Nick Benson and his team completed the text engravings that captured King’s words. Benson, a third-generation stone carver, spent more than two years on the project.
Upon opening in 2011, the memorial immediately faced controversy due to a paraphrased quote inscribed on the Stone of Hope: “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.” The inscription sparked controversy when author and poet Maya Angelou said it made King “look like an arrogant twit.” King’s original words from a Feb. 4, 1968, sermon were, “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.”
On Dec. 11, 2012, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced his decision to remove the controversial quote. It is no longer visible.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day
The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial is located in West Potomac Park at 1964 Independence Ave., referencing the year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law.
King was a Baptist minister and social activist who became a notable figure during the U.S. civil rights movement from the mid-1950s until he was assassinated in 1968. He played a pivotal role in ending the legal segregation of African American citizens in the U.S., influencing the creation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
It all started because of a hurtful snub from a fellow child. When King was 6 years old, a White playmate told him they could not be friends anymore.
The boy’s father demanded it. King went home and asked his parents, “Why?” It just didn’t make sense. King never stopped asking that simple question and demanded a nation join him. Why do people hate?
King was born Jan. 15, 1929, in Atlanta. Because of his high test scores, King skipped the ninth and 12th grades and entered Morehouse College in Atlanta at the age of 15.
In addition to a bachelor of arts degree in sociology from Morehouse College, a bachelor of divinity from Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, and a doctorate from Boston University, King was awarded 20 honorary degrees from institutions all over the world.
King’s activities began in 1955 when he led a boycott of city buses in Montgomery, Alabama, after Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus for a White passenger.
King was arrested 30 times for his participation in civil rights activities. His leadership in the civil rights movement earned him hundreds of awards, including Time’s Man of the Year in 1963 and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.
King was the youngest man (at age 35), the third American (after Theodore Roosevelt and Ralph Bunche), and the third Black man to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
In 1968, King went to Memphis, Tennessee, to support a strike by garbage workers. On April 4, he was assassinated.
The night before his death, King said prophetically in his final speech: “I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.”
Race relations in 2022
An ongoing Gallup survey from 2001-2021 shows that good relations between White and Black people appear to be declining.
Sources: The National Park Service, The Associated Press, Gallup