Although Hurricane Irene forced the Martin Luther King Jr. monument dedication ceremony to be postponed, hundreds of people still gathered at the nation’s newest park on Sunday to honor the civil rights icon.
“His monument is awesome,” said Dorothy Jackson, who drove to Washington from Miami with her husband, son and grandson. “When you look up at his statue, you see a king. You see Dr. Martin Luther King.”
Jackson, president of the Ron Brown Democratic Caucus of South Dade, was among about 500 people who milled around the monument under then still favorable skies Sunday morning.
“The people themselves dedicated the monument with their presence,” Jackson said Monday during a cell phone interview as the family was driving back home. “Someone was handing out flags with King’s image while others were taking pictures. A man and later on a woman recited some of King’s speeches and sayings.”
The impromptu efforts were not what the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation had in mind. 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 – the official dedication would have been the highlight of a week filled with luncheons, concerts and marches. President Barack Obama was to address an anticipated 250,000 people at the ceremony.
Event organizers had set up 30,000 folding chairs on the lawn near the King monument and there was standing room for thousands more to witness the event. But, by Aug. 25, the foundation decided to postpone the dedication. By Saturday, Washington was shifting into shutdown mode as the city braced for Irene’s arrival.
The then Category 1 hurricane, which touched down in the nation’s capital during the early morning hours on Sunday, resulted in some power outages and about 50 fallen trees and limbs, according to District of Columbia Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s office. A 5.8 magnitude earthquake on Aug. 22 caused some cracks to the Washington Monument but the storm caused no damage to the King Monument or to any of the other monuments in the city, National Park Service officials reported.
Storm-seasoned Jackson said she was not impressed with Mother Nature’s show of force in the D.C. area.
“I’ve been through a lot of hurricanes and this was not much of anything,” Jackson said. “It rained a lot on Saturday and we couldn’t go out but Sunday was beautiful.”
The storm, however, is having an impact on Houston Tate of Port St. Lucie. He and his wife and 7-year-old twins were still in Washington Sunday evening waiting to see when they could reschedule their train trip back to Palm Beach via Amtrak. The family had taken the train to Washington and arrived on Aug. 21 to do some educational sightseeing.
“We don’t know when we can go back, maybe Thursday,” Tate said Sunday night in a phone interview from his hotel in Washington. “We’re taking it day by day. Even though Washington, D.C., didn’t suffer, there was a great deal of flooding south of us, where portions of the rail track are inoperable.”
Tate, director of the office of Community Revitalization in Palm Beach County, said he is not worried about the delayed departure.
“Sometimes, when we have to take a moment to pause, that pause is for our own good. You recognize the power of God himself. We are still here. We are still safe,” he said.
Disappointed though he was that the storm prevented the dedication, Tate, a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, said he is grateful that he and his family had a chance to participate in some of the events organized by the nation’s oldest Greek letter fraternity for African Americans, an organization to which King also belonged.
The Alphas lined up a number of star-studded programs, including a private monument dedication on Friday for fraternity members and their families. The dedication featured remarks from King’s daughter Bernice King, his son Martin Luther King III and the Rev. Joseph Lowery, president-emeritus of King’s organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Former United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young and civil rights leaders the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton also were present for the ceremony that lasted more than three hours, Tate said.
“After the wonderful day at the memorial dedication, we had a silent march to the Stone of Hope,” Tate said, referring to a segment of the King Monument about 500 feet away from the ceremony.
“The monument is absolutely amazing and beautifully done,” said Tate’s wife, Harva. “I’ve been countless times to the [National] mall, but this was very special.”
Harva Tate passed the phone to her daughter, Haylynn. She and her twin brother, Hayden, are keeping a journal of their experiences which they will share with their classmates at Palm Pointe Educational Research School in Port St. Lucie.
“We looked at the monument. It was so huge. It was beautiful,” Haylynn said of the 30-foot-tall granite statue of King.
The Jacksons of Miami took along their 18-year-old grandson, Jamal Lee, also to ensure that King’s message of nonviolence and hope would be understood and passed on to younger generations.
“I was impressed that so many types of people would come to see a monument of a black man,” said Lee, a senior at Brooks- DeBartolo Collegiate High School in Tampa. “He was a black man who did a lot.”
The official dedication ceremony, which is being rescheduled for September or October, has at least one family interested in making a return trip, despite an earthquake, a hurricane and a delayed trip home.
“Washington always has so much to see,” Harva Tate said. “You can’t see it all in one trip. We may go back if it is at all possible.”
Photo: Photo Courtesy of Dorothy Jackson
Members of the Jackson family from Miami stand in front of the King monument on the National Mall. From left are Jamal Lee, Samuel E. Jackson, Dorothy Jackson and Samuel Jackson Jr.