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King memorial opens on the National Mall

Amy
Wednesday 07 Sep 2011

A memorial dedicated to struggle struggles to open

How ironic that a memorial dedicated to struggle struggled to open. But such was the fate of the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial, the latest monument to grace America's National Mall in Washington D.C.

The memorial, which commemorates Dr King's steadfast leadership to tolerance and equality for all individuals, was to be officially dedicated on August 28th, the 48th anniversary of the civil rights march on Washington and Dr King's 'I have a dream' speech.

But its opening was delayed by a couple of days following a 5.9 magnitude earthquake, the region's first, and record flooding from Hurricane Irene. These events were unprecedented and particularly poetic, making the opening of the memorial itself a bit of an uphill battle. In spite of record weather conditions, the crowds came in droves to celebrate the man who paved the way for equal rights for all in the United States.

The $120 million memorial sits on a four-acre site adjacent to the Lincoln Memorial, where Dr King delivered his now famous, 'I have a dream' speech, the culminating event of the Great March on Washington which took place on August 28th, 1963 and drew more than 300,000 protesters. Two years hence, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act and King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Like the man it celebrates, the memorial is not without controversy. It has been criticized on a number of fronts, including its having been designed by a Chinese sculptor, Lei Yixin (and not an American one); its not bearing a good enough resemblance to Dr King; and for the inscription that appears on the north face of the 30ft tall granite statue, the centerpiece of the memorial. That inscription, which states 'I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness', was drawn from Dr King's drum major sermon, which was delivered in Memphis in 1968, two months before his assassination. It was shortened to fit the space available. 

But some, like noted poet Maya Angelou, say that in choosing to paraphrase the original quote, the inscription is a misleading, inaccurate truncation that makes Dr King sound like 'an arrogant twit'. Despite waves of complaints from the public to change the inscription, executive architect for the memorial, Ed Jackson, Jr, says there are no plans to do so.   

So for now, it appears Dr King will stand in controversy on the nation's mall from this day forward, just as he did 48 years ago.

Sharon McHugh
US Correspondent

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