The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. spoke these famous words at a speech he gave on August 28, 1963 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. as part of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, a pivotal moment of the American civil rights movement. Sadly, King would not live to see his dream become a reality as he was assassinated five years later.
Growing up in Philadelphia, I attended an extremely diverse elementary school. Although it was a mere five minute drive from my house, it was a magnet school and so kids from all over Philadelphia attended it. Of my eight grade teachers, six of them were African-American. Consequently unlike many other white American children, I learned a significant amount of African-American history, and read a significant amount of literature by African-American writers. Most importantly, my school days were a testament to the realization of Dr. King‘s dream. I did indeed hold hands as a little white girl with my black classmates. They were first and foremost my equals and my friends.
The last time I visited Washington D.C. the memorial to Dr. King was not yet finished. And so with my recent trip there, I knew that I wanted to include the memorial on my list of stops. Although I was nearing mild exhaustion as we had been touring all morning, I decided to hail a taxi to take us to the memorial. We were at the Library of Congress which is just about on the opposite side of the Mall from the memorial is. It’s also a roughly 45 minute walk from where we were and still a 20 minute walk from the metro since there are no close stops to any of the memorials save for the Washington Monument.
I had seen pictures of the memorial but it’s one of those sites you need to see in person to truly appreciate. It’s located at 1964 Independence Avenue, SW with “1964” selected as a direct reference to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, a turning point in the civil rights movement in which King played a major role. It’s situated on a four-acre area in West Potomac Park that overlooks the Tidal Basin, southwest of the National Mall.
Upon arriving at the memorial, a 30 foot-high relief of King named the “Stone of Hope” stands past two other pieces of granite that symbolize the “mountain of despair.” In order to proceed into the memorial, visitors pass through the Mountain of Despair on the way to the Stone of Hope, symbolically “moving through the struggles as Dr. King did during his short life.” For today’s generation, it’s hard to imagine what the civil rights activists went through during the 1950s and 60s, when the demand for change could no longer be silenced.
While some critics didn’t like the fact that the “Stone of Hope” depicts a scowling King, how much happiness was he able to enjoy in his life? To me, it depicts a man who was not willing to stop until he achieved his dreams for the sake of his children and their children. Not stopping cost him his life, his wife being a widow, and his children being without a father. However, as a memorial to his incredible work, he looks out on other leaders in this nation’s history, including Franklin Delano Roosevelt, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln.
Surrounding the Stone of Hope and Mountain of Despair is a 450 foot-long inscription wall that includes excerpts from many of King‘s sermons and speeches. Fourteen of King‘s quotes are inscribed, the earliest from the time of the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott in Alabama, and the last from his final sermon, delivered in 1968 at Washington D.C.’s National Cathedral, just four days before his assassination.
If there was ever an orator of the times, the inspiring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have been it. Whether you lived through the civil rights era or are simply learning about it in your history textbook, be sure to pay your respects to one of America’s most worthy of leaders. The fact that he is only the fourth individual to have a memorial to him on the National Mall, which is primarily devoted to past American presidents, speaks volumes to his legacy.