Special to South Florida Times
Against a backdrop of mild temperatures and sunny skies, the long-awaited dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial took place Sunday with more than 30,000 people gathered at West Potomac Park in the nation’s capital to celebrate the legacy of the slain civil rights leader.
The day was in contrast to the originally scheduled Aug. 28 ceremony that was postponed because of severe weather — an earthquake and a hurricane, both rare in Washington — that hit the area.
Several speakers at the star-studded event Sunday, included President Barack Obama, civil rights leaders, King family members, national and corporate sponsors and entertainers.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said the Rev. Bernice King, the youngest daughter of King’s four children, referring to the many years it took for the memorial to be built. “The vision of my father’s fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, to build a monument, the establishment of a King Memorial Foundation led by Mr. Harry Johnson and 11 staff persons, an act of Congress, 10 years of fundraising and a lot of hard work, an earthquake and a hurricane — but, today, we are here,” King said to enthusiastic applause.
Heralded as the architect of the Civil Rights Movement and a “drum major for justice” who challenged civic and social inequalities in America during the 1950s and ’60s, Martin Luther King Jr. is the first African American and the only non-president to be memorialized in Washington, D.C.’s National Mall. He was assassinated in 1968 in Memphis while planning to lead a march of black sanitation workers who were on strike for higher wages and better treatment.
“He was the only man who was able to change the nation's mind and heart when it came to doing the right thing: securing equal rights for all Americans,” said U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, one of five Civil Rights Movement leaders who spoke at the dedication. “He was a founding father of a new America.”
North Miami resident Sheila Dardompre had planned to attend the August dedication and decided to make it Sunday.
Attending the dedication was important, she said Saturday evening aboard an American Airlines flight from Miami to Washington. She had learned about the civil rights leader from her parents, both Haitian immigrants.
“Dr. King’s memorial is making me visit my country’s capital for the first time,” said Dardompre, 35, an insurance adjuster. She organized friends from Chicago and New York to share the moment with her.
“I told them that we have to go there. It’s our history; it’s beautiful,” she said.
The original dedication had been planned for the 48th anniversary of the Aug. 28, 1963, “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” the day King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.
Bernice King called the postponement an act of “divine interruption to remind us of the King that moved us beyond the dream of racial justice to action and work of economic justice.
“Perhaps God wanted to remind us that, when our father was taken from us, he was in the midst of starting a poor people’s campaign where he was galvanizing poor people from all walks of life to converge on this nation’s capital and stay here and occupy this place until there was change in the economic system and a better distribution of wealth.”
King said her father would have supported the ongoing Occupy Wall Street protests taking place in New York, Washington, Miami and other cities.
“I hear my father saying what we are seeing now all across the streets of America and the world is a freedom explosion,” King said.
On Saturday, the Rev. Al Sharpton led a jobs march through Washington.
Obama, the event’s keynote speaker, talked about a need to be patient while being committed to change. In comments about King’s struggle, which seemed to parallel his own status, he said:
“Let us remember that change has never been quick. Change has never been simple or without controversy. Change depends of persistence. Change requires determination. [King] kept on pushing, kept on speaking, kept on marching until change finally came."
Even after winning the Nobel Peace Prize, King was vilified by many, denounced as “a rabble-rouser and an agitator, a communist and a radical,” Obama said. "He was even attacked by his own people, by those who felt he was going too fast or those who felt he was going too slow,” the president said as he stood in front of the 30-foot King statue.
Photo: CHARLES DHARAPAK/AP File PHOTO
AT LAST: The original Aug. 28 Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial dedication was postponed due to a rare earthquake and hurricane in the Washington area.