As our country’s history of racial inequality and segregation recedes slowly into the past, generations of future Washington, DC visitors will find it hard to fathom a time when African-Americans did not have the same rights as white Americans. But the civil rights movement isn’t just history. It’s part of the recent past, especially for those who can still recall a time when they had to move to the back of the bus, attend different schools and drink from separate water fountains.
We all learn about Lincoln and Jefferson in school, but none of us were alive to witness their accomplishments. That’s what makes the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial so unique. For many visitors, the struggle for racial equality is an all-too-recent memory. It’s deeply personal, especially for those who lived through the marches and heard the speeches of the civil rights movement.
Jim Abercrombie, a DC resident who has visited the memorial many times since it officially opened this past August, says, “[The memorial] means more to us because of the struggle we saw [MLK] go through to try to bring people together and have peace, and he finally got recognized for it.”
What really moves people are MLK’s words, 14 different quotations carved into the memorial’s “Inscription Wall.” Abercrombie’s wife Louise notes that “you can just put yourself in an auditorium, because you can hear [MLK’s] voice through what is written on the wall.”
Marquette basketball player Jae Crowder from Atlanta also finds the inscriptions his favorite part of the memorial. So which quote stands out in his mind? Crowder immediately recites his favorite, one he’d never heard before: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
Martin Luther King Jr.’s overarching messages of love and peace will continue to resonate with future generations of visitors to the MLK Memorial. His words, etched in stone on the Inscription Wall forever, will ensure that.
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