Visiting Martin Luther King Jr.

I’ve been delaying writing this post. No matter how I write it, it’s going to be controversial. You can’t write about a memorial to a Civil Rights leader and not somehow be controversial. It’s impossible.

I was beyond happy when I learned there was going to be a Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the National Mall. He’d be placed right next to some of the great American presidents. It showed a level of honor and respect to a great black leader that 50 years ago you would never have seen. It showed that regardless of race men and women can be equals.

I missed the unveiling of the memorial, mostly because between earthquakes, hurricanes and snowstorms, it was rescheduled so many times I couldn’t remember exactly when it was. Unveiling or not, I took my camera down to the Tidal Basin and  took in the memorial that had already gained so much attention.

Weeks before, my roommate had gone down saying that it was “extremely moving,” nearly bringing her to tears. Unfortunately others had already started taking hits on the memorial, making pointed comments about misprinted quotes. I tried to block out all the comments before I went. I wanted my own opinion. Either way it further increased my anticipation and expectation.

Anticipation and expectation are bad things. They almost always lead to disappointment. In fact, I’m pretty sure people who say “it was beyond my wildest expectation” never actually thought that hard about what they were getting themselves into. All of this is by way of saying I was disappointed.

I wasn’t disappointed in the detail of the carving of Dr. King. In fact, it really did look like him. The scope of the memorial, the grandeur of the memorial, all seemed much less impressive than I had expected. It seemed too simple. It seemed to me like it was there because someone decided to appease the masses and put a memorial to a black person on the mall. It didn’t feel like it was there because it is suppose to be there.

I have a problem with a memorial to a great black civil rights leader being carved out of white stone. It seems to diminish to me to diminish the significance of the memorial. It’s significant because it is the first memorial dedicated to a great black leader. By making Martin Luther King, Jr. white, that seems to be lost. He just blends into all the other monuments and memorials.

Many argue that diversity should mean that regardless of skin color, you blend into the crowed. But acknowledging racial differences openly does not mean ignoring race entirely, it means embracing the racial diversity around you. Martin Luther King, Jr. worked hard to bring racial equality in this country. He did not preach ignoring race. He became one of most important, if not the most important leader of the Civil Rights movement. We should not be hiding the fact that he’s black under a stone of white. We should be embracing his race and saying to the world that it doesn’t matter the color of your skin, you’re welcome in this country and we will look at you and treat you the same as everyone else.

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

One thought on “Visiting Martin Luther King Jr.

  1. I will have to see the memorial for myself. In photos, not just yours, he looks stone cold – which he was not. To me, he was always bursting out or bursting through…. Can that be captured in a D.C. monument?

    Long ago, I visited the memorial in Atlanta, GA. It struck me as glitzy and commercial. At that time, I wondered if he would like it. ( Certainly he would have liked the crowd it drew that day.)


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