Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr.
Using peaceful methods, Martin Luther King, Jr., led a protest for equal transportation rights in Alabama that became a national Civil Rights Movement that changed America. It transformed American race relations, ended legal discrimination and segregation, and reminded us of our shared humanity and intertwined destiny. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was recognized with a Pulitzer Peace Prize (1964) for his Civil Rights leadership and dedication to peace. Some might relegate his struggle for justice and equality to history. Perhaps, someday, that will be so. However, a quick look at the United States Census chart summarizing educational attainment, occupation, income, and poverty by race reveals there is still work to be done. Dr. King’s message is still relevant.
In August, 2011, the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial opened to the public; in October, 2011, a dedication ceremony marked the Memorial’s official opening. The King Memorial is historic; it is one of only three other memorials on the National Mall in honor of civilians and stands as the only Mall monument to honor of an African-American.
On the third Monday in January, Americans celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. It is a federal holiday celebrating the birth of Dr. King. (His actual birthday is January 15th.) Again, Dr. King is in rare company; only two other Americans have federal holidays named for them: George Washington, the first President, and Christopher Columbus, the American explorer. This year, Dr. King’s holiday falls on January 20. Many Americans commemorate Dr. King with a day of service. Today, we acknowledge his importance by exploring the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.
The Memorial Project: A Work in Progress
Sixteen years ago, in 1996, Congress approved a plan to build a memorial on Washington D.C.’s National Mall in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. President Clinton signed the resolution authorizing its creation in 1998.
The Memorial Project was charged with leading the planning, designing, fundraising, and building of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial. It was a monumental assignment; one they have been overseeing for over a decade. Watch Tavis Smiley’s interview with Harry Johnson, President of the Memorial Project. Read some quick facts about the Memorial. Did you note (in the interview and on the fact sheet) how much the Memorial cost? $120 million is a hefty price tag. To raise this amount, the Memorial Project launched a series of public announcements. Watch commercials by NBA Stars, Morgan Freeman, and Nelly. Catch the first peek of the Memorial with a virtual tour of the architect’s rendering. The tour begins with a timeline of key events in the Memorials inception, highlights some of the design features, and shares some of the King quotes that are etched on the Memorial. Watch the architect’s tour of the National Mall and the King Memorial to see where Dr. King’s Memorial fits into the landscape of the National Mall. Do you wonder, “Why is this man important? Why is this monument here?” Listen to President Obama’s speech at the groundbreaking ceremony. In it, he shares his answer to that question.
In August, 2011, the Memorial opened to the public. After being postponed due to Hurricane Irene, the King Memorial was officially unveiled at the October 16, 2011 dedication ceremony. Do you wonder—what does it look like? Visit the Associated Press interactive, MLK Memorial: honors legacy of civil rights leader for photos of those design features you saw earlier in the architects images. Click on The Memorial tab. For a diagram of where the Memorial sits in relation to other National Mall memorials, open the National Mall tab. For a timeline review of King’s life, visit the Life and Legacy tab.
Washington D.C.’s hometown newspaper, the Washington Post, covered the local event and shares special report coverage of the new national monument. Here you will discover the King Memorial was not without controversy; one of the quotes chiseled into the monument incorrectly quotes Dr. King. Discover why this is significant to some and decide if you agree. Read what Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced will be done.
Explore the Memorial for close-up images of different parts, to see how this Memorial sizes up to other Mall monuments, tips for getting to the Memorial, and a quiz about Dr. King. Read coverage of the dedication ceremony, including a transcript of President Obama’s speech. If you have not already, view a slideshow of photographs taken during the dedication ceremony.
The Washington Post’s special report is extensive and it would be easy to miss, or to skip, a section. Be sure not to miss Memories of MLK. These eighteen testimonials are split into five sections: The Man, the March, the Impact, the Loss, and the Memorial. Most feature powerful and historic memorials videos from those who knew Dr. King. Watch as many as possible. They are living history and valuable primary-source resources.
Are you curious about how the idea for a King Memorial came to be, who the sculptor was, or how the King monument was put together? Find the answers in the Memorial milestones timeline.
If you would like to hear some of the iconic sounds of the Civil Rights Movement, the songs sung during protests, marches, and speeches, begin with Joan Baez’s rendition of We Shall Overcome. Want more? You can also listen to Free at Last, People Get Ready, and Precious Lord, Take My Hand.
As you read the news in the newspaper this week, focus on Martin Luther King’s legacy. He galvanized everyday people—those without money or political power—to make a difference using nonviolent methods. Because of him, thousands did something. And our world was changed.
Look for articles about individuals, groups, or organizations working to ensure equality for all. Look for announcements in the calendar of local events for service opportunities. Keep an eye out for articles that highlight inequality or the need for justice, either for an individual or systemic. Select one article to share with classmates. What struck you about this person or situation? Discuss how you might make a difference, what daily choices you make that impact the situation, and what more you might do.