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The morning sun that came up over Washington’s Tidal Basin on Monday illuminated a new memorial opening to the public for the first time: a plaza and statue honoring the late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
President Barack Obama is scheduled to dedicate the site on Sunday, but the media and visitors were allowed to take part in a “soft” preview as construction crews complete their final touches.
“I feel like I’m standing on holy ground,” said Donnie Simons, nearly overcome with emotion at the sight of the granite portrayal of King.
The D.C. resident told CNN, “What Dr. King means to me and this world, and the things that he stood for, for us to give him this kind of commemoration, for my kids and my grandkids, they’re going to be able to stand here and see this as well.”
Another visitor, who drove up from Atlanta for the preview, told CNN the memorial is “breathtaking,” in how the 30-foot tall sculpture faces the Tidal Basin, overlooking the water in front of the Jefferson Memorial.
“It’s an emotional response,” said Erica Nicole Griffin, “but it’s also a sense of ‘wow, this is finally happening.'”
The early visitors represented a variety of ethnic backgrounds. “I would have expected that,” said Wayne Cunningham of California, on a family vacation to the nation’s capital, “because I think he’s a symbol of not just the blacks but all cultures and all races.”
Groundbreaking took place in November 2006, and the dedication on Sunday is timed with the 48th anniversary of the March on Washington, where King delivered his historic speech, “I Have a Dream.”
I was there for the original speech. Working security for some of the speakers I was off to the side of things – keeping an eye out for racist idiots. But, I could hear every word as clearly as anyone out front. A few years later I got to open for Dr. King a couple of times in Chicago – the man never let a crowd off with an “easy” speech.
It was a tough day of travel by train – in a group mostly organized by Black ministers from my home town. And all worth it.
The best chuckles were in the organizing: leafletting the central Catholic church in my neighborhood, inviting folks to come along and participate, the priest came out on the steps and ordered parishioners leaving mass not to read or accept that “commie propaganda”. Only topped by the chief of police exiting the same mass and presuming I was handing out leaflets because I knew he was there. Which I didn’t. But, I especially would have had I known. 🙂
CNN looks to be carrying the dedication, Sunday. Please watch and remember an important part of American history.