THE E PLURIBUS UNUM DEDICATION OF THE
MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., MEMORIAL
By Uriah J. Fields
On october 16, 2011, the Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial was dedicated on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The dedication ceremony of the memorial had been scheduled to take place on August 28, 2011, six weeks earlier, but after a magnitude 5.8 earthquake with the epicenter in Mineral, Virginia occurred on August 23 that was powerful enough to do significant damage to the National Cathedral in Washington and a few days later the turbulent Hurricane Irene that did considerabe damage on the East Coast, the dedication of the MLK Memorial was postonded.
The August dedication was expected to draw 250,000 people and organizers estimated that about 50,000 would attend the October event. The gathering filled 10,000 folding chairs and spilled across a large field near the Tidal Basin. While it wes not the crowd that I experienced when I attended the inauguration of President Obama in 2009, it was a huge crowd of enthsiastic people who like myself were E pluribus unum people celebrating the dedication of the MLK Memorial. The weather was ideal for the occasion. Before discussng in more detail my eye-witness account of the dedication ceremony I want to present some facts about the MLK Memorial.
The idea of the MLK Memorial is the result of and effort of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, incorporated to erect a monment to King. It was shortly after King's assassination on April 4, 1968 (my birthday) that some Alpha Phi Alpha members discussed the idea. King was a member of the fraternity. The campaign to erect a permanent memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr., is a more ambitious project than any the fraternity had ever attempted.
With the Congressional Black Caucus spearheading the effort in the Congress, in 1996, the United States Congress authorized with Public Law 104-133 and President Bill Clinton confirmed the fraternity's request to establish a foundation - The Washington D.C. Martin Luther King, Jr., National Project Foundation - to manage the memorial's fundraising, design and construction. Harry E. Johnson, the 31st President of Alpha Phi Alpha is the current president and CEO of the foundation. The National Park System will maintain the site.
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial is located in West Potomac Park,Washington D.C. southwest of the National Mall. The memorial is America's 395th unit of the National Park System and is located at the northwest corner of the Tidal Basin near the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial on a sightline that links the Lincoln Memorial to the northeast and the Jeferson Memorial.
The Groundbreaking ceremony occurred on November 13, 2006. The construction began only after a sigificant portion of the $120 million had been raised. As of the date of the dedication $115 million had been raised that included $10 million in matching funds provided by the United States Congress. The memorial has not yet been completely financed with $5 million still needed to be raised.
The sculpture of King with his arms crossed appears to emerge from a stone extracted from a mountain. King was only 5'8" but the sculpture is a 30-foot tall statue of King. It was carved by Chinese artist Lei Yixin. The design was inspired by a sentence from the "I Have a Dream" speech King delivered at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963: "Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope."
There are two incscriptions on the statue. The inscription, on the statue's south face says "Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope." The inscription on the north face reads, "I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousnesss." Maya Angelou and some other people have been critical of the inscription on the north face. Angelou says it makes King look like an"arrogant twit." Others have said it makes him look like a jerk. It paraphrased King's famous comments from a sermon called "The Drum Major Instinct" he delivered at Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church on February 4, 1968, two months before he was killed. Earlier in his sermon King had talked about being ego-driven and the desire of the human spirit to be great without doing anything great, without facing difficulties, who want to be at the front of the pack, drawing all the attention. King was not declaring himself to be a drum major but wanted people to know that if they should choose to say that he was a drum major let it be on this order: "Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice, say I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all the other shallow things will not matter." In this context and in consideration of his intentionality it is understandable why Angelou and some others may take exception to this inscription.
There are two reasons why I am pleased with the inscription as it appears on the statue even as I realize that people who read it will not get the full meaning of the message King conveys in his full message. However, the message they will get is powerful and it is not contradictory to what King represented and died for: (1) it is brief and can be easily quoted and remembered, and (2) being a drum major for justice, peace and righteousess sums up King's mission work. Nobody questions the fact that King was in front of the pack. I cannot agree with Angelou who says it makes King look "arrogant" and others who say it make him look like a jerk. I say it makes King look like a person who has audacity to confront racism and other evil that result from man's inhumanity to man. Indeed, that is a noble pursuit.
The 450 feet granite wall near the statue has 14 of King's quotations carved in stone. As of date, about 1.5 million people are estimated to have visited the statue of King and the ganite wall.
THE MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., MEMORIAL DEDICATION CEREMONY
The dedication of Washington's new Martin Luther King, Jr., National Memorial involved an array of speakers and singers. Included were two of King's children*, Martin Luther King III and Rev. Bernice Albertine King. Among other speakers were Jesse Jackson, Andrew Young , Al Sharpton, Dan Akerson, General Motors chariman and CEO and Tommy Hilfiger, founder of Tommy Hilfiger Corporation. Early in the ceremony the mass gathering joined in singing "Lift Every Voice and Sing." Also known as the "African American Anthem." Aretha Franklin sang "Precious Lord, Take My Hand." The Ebenezer Baptist Church Choir rendered celebratory music. Nikki Giovanni recited the poem "In the Spirit of Martin."
President Barack Obama delivered a powerful mesasge. He urged Americans to harness the energy of the Civil Rights Movement for today's challenges and to remain committed to King's philosophy of peaceful resistance. He employed King's pursuit of equality, justice and peaceful resistance as the nation confronts challenges 48 years after King's "I Have A Dream" speech in Washington. "King," he said, "had faith in us." He said "there are parallel struggles then and now." The President credited King with paving his way to the White House. Before his ramarks, he left signed copies of his inaugural speech with 2008 convention address in a time capsule at the monument site.
A concert followed the dedication that featured Stevie Wonder, James Taylor, Sheryl Crow and others.
The service ended with a prayer by the Rev. Raphael Warnock, Senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church where King was co-pastor with his father Rev. Martin Luther King, Sr.
*Martin Luther King, Jr, and Coretta Scott King had four children. During his August 28, 1963 "I Have a Dream," speech delivered at the Lincoln Memorial King mentioned his four children in what has become a much quoted portion of his speech. He said, "I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." He was referring to Yolanda Denise, Martin Luther, III, Dexter Scott and Bernice Albertine. Coretta Scott King died in January of 2006 and Yolanda Denise died in May of 2007.
I recall that December 5, 1955, was the day of Rosa Park's' trial when she was found guilty of violating Alabama's segregagtion laws by City Court Judge John B. Scott and the day the first mass meeting of the Montgomery Bus Boycott was held at the Holt Street Baptist Church that attracted some 4,000 people. Between these two events, that afternoon eighteen persons gathered at Mt. Zion AMEZ Church and organized the Montgomery Improvement Association which would provide organizational leadership for the bus boycott. Martin Luther King, Jr., was elected president, this writer, Uriah J. Fields secretary, and E. D. Nixon treasurer of the organization. Here is a quote from my book, Inside the Montgomery Bus Boycott: My Personal Story, that mentions Yolanda Denise King. "About 1:45 p.m. (Dec. 5) when I arrived at the Mt. Zion AMEZ Church, E. D. Nixon (who paid Rosa Parks' bail) and some of the other people who would attend the meeting were already there. King was one of the last persons to arrive. When he arrived, he started to offer an apology for being late. Nixon interrupted him and said, "We'll forgive you Rev. King, you have a new baby." Everyone began laughing. Yolanda, Rev. King's and his wife's first child, was only three weeks old. But the laughter was short-lived." (pp.40-41).
Copyright 2011 by Uriah J. Fields
P.S. May everyone who reads this article forward it to his/her friends. Everyone has a right to know the truth...to know history. - ujf