African-American Landmarks: Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

    African-American Landmarks: Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

    Part of our African-American Landmarks & Destinations Family Travel Series

    By Kimberly Dijkstra


    Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the leader of the civil rights movement and iconic figure in American history, is immortalized in a striking memorial in downtown Washington DC. Through a philosophy of nonviolent activism, he strove for freedom, justice, peace, and equality. These principles are represented throughout the monument dedicated to his legacy.

    Following a design competition, a long selection process, and the physical creation, the memorial was dedicated in 2011, the 48th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Chinese artist Master Lei Yixin studied hundreds of photographs of Dr. King to capture his likeness, but more importantly, the essence of his spirit in granite.

    “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”

     These words taken from a speech by Dr. King are a focal point of the monument and, in fact, the theme of overall design. The metaphorical mountain and stone are made real. Other quotes from throughout Dr. King’s civil rights career are engraved on the north and south inscription walls, including inspirational words from his “I Have a Dream” speech.

    In the spring the white stone monuments are surrounded by pink cherry blossom trees, creating a peaceful, contemplative environment.

    To commemorate your visit, pick up a keepsake at the bookstore. Kids can pick up a Junior Ranger booklet that’s filled with activities and prompts to explore the National Mall and its memorials. Park rangers are available throughout the day to answer questions and give tours.

    The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial is the first to honor an African American individual and the only major memorial on the National Mall that is not dedicated to a former present. Dr. King’s statue is in the company of memorials for Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, and George Washington. Overlooking the tidal basin of the Potomac River, it can be found south of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Reflecting Pool, and the Korean War Veterans Memorial at 1964 Independence Avenue SW. The address is notable because it references the year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law. 

    A family vacation to DC is not complete without a visit to the monument of this great man who fought tirelessly for civil rights for African Americans and whose life ended too soon.

    In addition to the memorial in DC, numerous streets, buildings, and schools have been named after Martin Luther King Jr. not only throughout the US, but internationally as well. King’s boyhood home and church where he and his father were pastors have been preserved as part of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Park in Atlanta, Georgia.



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