On MLK Day, we remember the life and struggles of Martin Luther King Jr., an African-American civil rights leader, who pushed the envelope, with countless others, to demand equal treatment of African-Americans and people of color.
Remembering the passionate, non-violent champion for civil rights is extra special today. For the first time, visitors can reflect on the man and his life, at the new Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, located on the National Mall in Washington, DC.
Dozens of people flocked to the memorial for a ceremony to remember King. Harry Johnson, the president and CEO of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation, laid a wreath at the foot of the memorial this morning.
Rev. Al Sharpton and senior advisor to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar attended the ceremony. You may recall that Salazar recently gave the National Park Service a month to fix an abbreviated version of a quote, etched into the statue centerpiece of the memorial. The quote is from King’s 1968 sermon, The Drum Major Instinct. Writer Maya Angelou and other critics said the current version of the quote made King sound uncharacteristically egotistical.
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.”
With the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial opening to the public just last summer, this will be the first MLK Day you’ll be able to visit the memorial. If Monday draws even a fraction of the thousands of people who attended the memorial’s dedication in August, plan ahead and prepare for crowds.
Here’s what you’ll need to know when planning your visit:
Off the Mall, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial is located in a remote and beautiful 4-acre site in West Potomac Park along the Tidal Basin. It’s close to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial and on a direct line between the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials (which makes for a fantastic view and plenty of photo ops). The official address of the memorial, 1964 Independence Ave, SW, commemorates the year that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law.
How to Get There
Like all the memorials on the National Mall, parking is extremely limited so your best bet is to take public transportation and prepare to walk a bit. The closest Metro stations are Smithsonian and Foggy Bottom. For a longer but more scenic walk, get off at Arlington National Cemetery and walk over the Arlington Memorial Bridge, crossing the Potomac with the Lincoln Memorial ahead of you. Metro has helpful walking directions from all these spots, which you can find here.
Photo: Martin Luther King and his wife Coretta Scott King lead a civil rights march
in Selma, Alabama, March 1965. (Getty Images)
On January 17, 2011, we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the holiday recognizing one of America’s greatest heroes — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Events are planned all around the nation to honor Dr. King’s commitment to nonviolence and social justice. Check out mlkday.gov for a central clearing house of all MLK Day of Service volunteer opportunities in your local community.
Many museums are also recognizing Martin Luther King with special exhibits and presentations. Check out our article Spots to Follow M.L.K.’s Life for links to some of the museums associated with King’s legacy such as the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, TN.
Other major events are planned at the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC, the King Center in Atlanta, The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit and the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago.