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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.”