King memorial to signal change in National Mall
Ground will be broken in many ways Monday morning with a ceremony heralding construction of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National...
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — Ground will be broken in many ways Monday morning with a ceremony heralding construction of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall.
The memorial, scheduled to be completed in 2008, will mark a change in the character of some of the nation's most hallowed real estate.
The Mall is lined with memorials to wars and the soldiers who died in them and marble monuments to great presidents. But this addition will be a unique tribute to the man and the ideal it honors: a civilian and an African American who embodied the nation's tradition of peaceful protest and activism.
"I think, like many kids, I came to D.C. years ago and saw all the monuments," said Harry Johnson Sr., president of the Washington, D.C., Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation. "But there never was a memorial to a man of color, a man of peace."
Monday's groundbreaking is expected to draw 5,000 people. It will feature former President Clinton, who signed the 1996 bill authorizing the memorial. Talk-show host Oprah Winfrey and poet Maya Angelou also will speak at the ceremony.
They will gather at the four-acre site along the Tidal Basin that sits halfway between monuments to Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, and Abraham Lincoln, liberator of slaves. The crescent-shape memorial park will be near the steps leading to the Lincoln Memorial, where King gave his electrifying "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963.
Cranes and backhoes won't move in immediately. This groundbreaking is ceremonial, and the construction permits from either the secretary of the Interior or the General Services Administration will be issued once fundraising is complete. In the case of the World War II Memorial, permits were issued two months after the groundbreaking attended by about 10,000 people on Veterans Day 2000.
At the memorial to King's vision, visitors will enter through a 12-foot-wide cut in the wall, walking through a tall, dark passage symbolizing the "mountain of despair" King referred to in the "dream" speech.
Once visitors pass through the portal, the view of the Tidal Basin's waters and ring of trees will unfold. The giant stone piece removed from the wall to create the opening will be in the middle of the plaza. King's image will be sculpted from it, emerging from the rough-hewn Stone of Hope.
The design team is working on plans to create waterfalls that will flow in a syncopated rhythm reflecting King's oratory style, cascading over a wall engraved with his words.
The memorial's design, by the ROMA Design Group of San Francisco, has received resounding praise.
"It's very elegant and simple and moving," said Thomas Luebke, secretary of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts. "It's interesting that on part of the Mall, there is a theme developing. It is less about war and more about ideas and aspirations."
The biggest obstacle the memorial has faced is money. And that's part of the message its backers will send during Monday's groundbreaking.
They have raised almost two-thirds of the $100 million needed to build. Efforts have been beset by delays.
"The fundraising is difficult, period," Johnson said. "There is always something else looking for attention of the donors. There was 9/11, then the tsunami, then Hurricane Katrina."
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