Almost fifty years ago today, on August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and uttered words that would reverberate across history. This week, just across the lawn from those steps, a memorial to Dr. King was opened to the public for the first time.
With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.
Martin Luther King, Jr., "I Have a Dream," 1963
I took The Pup this week, when it was open to the public before the opening ceremony (which was supposed to be today, on the anniversary of the speech, but was cancelled due to the hurricane). Every time I've tried to synthesize the impact of this space on my city - and on the national psyche - I've failed. I've started to write this post four times, and each version was entirely different - an emphasis on scale, or on history, or on its misinterpretation, or on continued (or failed) hope. So, the biggest thing I took away from that afternoon is that this space will impact every individual differently, perhaps drastically so. Personally, I think it's a profound place for introspection and thought and hope and, indeed, for despair. So I'm not going to try to make sense of it for you - you can do that yourself.
The memorial is based upon that quote from the "I Have a Dream" speech - as a visitor, you literally walk through a huge marble mountain (despair) into a curved amphitheater that features MLK, quite literally, as a "stone of hope." And what a stone - he measures 30 feet in height, his feet rooted in the marble, staring across the Tidal Basin to Jefferson's rotunda. (For scale, Lincoln's seated monument is only 19 feet tall.) He is enormous, and he is magnificent. But he is not kind. He is fierce, and he is determined, and the quotes that surround him along the curved wall highlight the depth of the struggle and the pain he endured, and quite frankly the reality that his movement is still continuing - a movement that goes far beyond Civil Rights. Are we yet "a society that can live with its conscience"? The implication is that we aren't there yet, and that his looming figure is still watching and waiting. For better or worse, the MLK memorial makes King into a universal symbol, moving him by both words and image into the conscience-maker of modern America.
As a space, it's gorgeous. It was crowded, of course, but the site held the mass of people easily. Once the rush of first visits and tourists wears off, I think it will become one of the most peaceful and impressive sites in DC. The site was easy to navigate with a stroller, even in the crowd, and it's definitely kid-friendly - lots of space, and lots of things to see, whether quotes or trees. The Pup liked to watch the waterfall next to the mountain, and there are a number of ducks and seagulls in the Tidal Basin. I'm sure it will be beautiful at night as well, considering the marble walls and quotations are fully lit from the within the ground.
I'm still thinking about it now, days later...and especially today. We still have a dream...