(Special to South Florida Times) – Despite a threat from Hurricane Irene, hundreds of thousands of people were scheduled to travel to the nation’s capital for the dedication of the Dr. Martin King, Jr., Memorial. Due to weather conditions, the event has been postponed indefinitely. Washington, D.C., officials predicted crowds of up to a million for the weeklong festivities that culminate Sunday in the unveiling of a monument in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which opened to the public Monday.
“We feel it is our obligation to be there,” said Dorothy Jackson, president of the Ron Brown Democratic Caucus of South Dade. Brown and her husband Samuel are driving from Miami and making it a family trip.
“I want my grandson to remember what Dr. King stood for and did for us,” the retired medical records administrator said.
King, who led the nation’s Civil Rights Movement from 1955 to 1968, is the first non-U.S. president to be honored with a major memorial on the National Mall. King was assassinated in 1968 in Memphis, Tenn., where he had planned to lead black sanitation workers on strike for better working benefits.
The monument, 15 years in the making, stands on the corner of a four-acre tidal basin plot between memorials honoring presidents Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson. The 30-foot-tall granite statue depicts King wearing a suit and tie with his arms folded. He appears to be emerging from a boulder, a “stone of hope,” leaving behind a “mountain of despair” — phrases King used in his I Have a Dream speech 48 years ago on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The statue is surrounded by a 450-foot-long marble wall on which 14 quotations from King's speeches and sermons are etched.
“To see my children and grandchildren reap the benefits of all the beatings, the hangings and lynchings, the dogs, water hoses, the segregated schools, all of the trauma and tribulation we had to go through, to see them reap those benefits and see the nation finally recognize the architect of this movement is so rewarding to me,” said U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami.
Wilson was returning to Washington after hosting a town hall meeting on Monday in Miami Gardens and
a Congressional Black
Caucus (CBC) jobs fair in downtown Miami on Tuesday. She will attend the official dedication ceremony scheduled for 11 a.m.
The dedication date, selected for its historical significance, presented a schedule conflict for U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar, who will be India on a trip he said he had planned before the date of the dedication ceremony was known.
“It’s more than a fitting tribute for a genuine hero of humankind,” said Hastings, who credits U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta, and the CBC for helping the monument become reality.
Lewis, 71, a colleague of King’s, is the only person still alive who spoke at the 1963 March on Washington when King delivered his Dream speech.
The idea for the
memorial, which will be administered by the National Park Service, came from King’s fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha in 1984 but it was not until 1996 that Congress approved the plan and President Bill Clinton signed the authorization into law that November.
The CBC joined the fraternity to push for the monument. The fraternity, with its 700 chapters, has raised more than $3 million in support of the monument’s total cost of $120 million.
Houston Tate, director of the office of Community Revitalization for Palm Beach County, belongs to the Alphas’ Eta Kappa Lambda chapter in Fort Pierce. Between 200 and 220 Alpha Phi Alpha chapters have registered to be a part of the celebration, said Bryan J. Kelly, communications director of Alpha Phi Alpha, which is based in Baltimore.
Tate, former Belle Glade city manager, is spending a week in Washington with his wife Harva and their 7-year-old twins Hayden and Haylynn. The Port St. Lucie residents took a train to Washington, where they will visit national and African-American landmarks.
“I took my kids out of school to be here,” Tate said. “This is a teaching moment of just how great our nation is.”
The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation Inc. has planned scores of activities and exhibits around the dedication, including a civil rights pioneers luncheon, a women’s luncheon and civil rights concert. As of Wednesday, organizers were closely tracking the likely path of Hurricane Irene for any possible impact on the D.C. area but had not canceled any scheduled events.
On Saturday, the Rev. Al Sharpton and his National Action Network were scheduled to stage a march for jobs and justice reminiscent of the Poor People’s March that King led on Aug. 28, 1963, in Washington. King’s eldest son, Martin Luther King III, national radio host Tom Joyner, Marc Morial, CEO of the National Urban League, and NAACP President Ben Jealous were also scheduled to lead the march and address the thousands of people expected to attend.
Due to Hurricane Irene, those events have been cancelled.
Wayne Alexander, chairman of the board of directors of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee of Greater Fort Lauderdale, will not be among the visitors to Washington. But the group sent a check for $500 towards the monument fund, which on Wednesday had received more than $114 million.
McKissack & McKissack/Turner/Gilford/Tompkins, an African-American joint venture group, was tapped as the design-build team. Nicholas Benson was hired as the stone carver.
Some criticism has centered on the fact that the memorial was made in China and that a Chinese sculptor, Lei Yixin, was commissioned to create the centerpiece, including King’s statue and the “Stone of Hope.”
Kelly of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity has this response to such criticism: “This monument is going to be seen as an ‘upliftment’ to those who participated in those past marches and helped his dream become realized. It is more of a symbol to help people understand what Dr. King fought for and that it is something that should be recognized.”
Charles Dharapak/AP Photo. Dr. Martin King, Jr., Memorial