February 22, 2012

The MLK Memorial

Scott Evans travels to the National Mall to see the new monument.

Scott: We wanted to know what it is like to have a family member represented here with a memorial on the lawn. So, we reached out to Dr. King’s great-niece Farris and great-great-nephew Uriah. And, Uriah, this is actually your first time here at the monument.

Uriah: Yeah. It is.

Scott: How does it feel, man? What do you think?

Uriah: Really, it’s kind of awe inspiring just getting a chance to see this monument. It’s way bigger than I expected. It’s so huge and just such a big mark on the landscape out here. It’s crazy.

Scott: So, when you first got to the monument, when you were here for the unveiling, of course you saw he was right across from the Jefferson Memorial. Does that have any sort of weight for you?

Farris: It adds a significant more amount of interest to me because, you know, it’s like a president here, my uncle here. This is just mind blowing to me, that a common man could be so close on the mall to a president who did so much for the nation.

Scott: He was born a common man but he had an extraordinary dream — equal rights for all, regardless of race.

When Dr. King was born in Atlanta in 1929, what were some of the inequalities that he faced, that people faced?

Uriah: It was really like blacks were completely second class citizens. You weren’t allowed to eat in the same part of the restaurant.

Farris: They could not use the same bathrooms.

Uriah: You weren’t allowed to drink from the same water fountains as white people.

Farris: They had to sit in the back of the bus.

Uriah: In a lot of states it was illegal for blacks and whites to marry.

Scott: Inequalities King was determined to change.

During the 1950s and 60s, King led hundreds of thousands of young people in protests, demanding equal rights for African-Americans. They were met with clubs and blasted with hoses. But under Dr. King’s leadership, the protesters chose a strategy of non-violence.

Because of their determination, the U.S. government passed new laws to protect the rights of all Americans — the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

But not everyone wanted change, and that made King a target. He received death threats, his house was fire bombed, and in 1968, at the age of 39, Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. It was a crushing blow to many Americans, who were determined to see Dr. King’s memory live on. And nearly thirty years ago, members of his college fraternity proposed creating a memorial to him on the mall. But it wasn’t easy. First, they needed to raise $120 million to build it. And they needed to get the approval of Congress. The effort took years.

Finally, in October of last year, the country’s first African-American president attended the dedication of the first monument on the national mall honoring an African-American.

President Obama: This is a country where ordinary people find in their hearts the courage to do extraordinary things.

Scott: The new monument is located near the Lincoln Memorial where King gave his famous I Have a Dream speech in 1963 to 250,000 protesters — the largest protest the country had ever seen.

The memorial has a quote from that speech etched in its side. ‘Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.’ That quote is the foundation for the entire monument. These stones there represent the mountain of despair and this stone here with Dr. King’s face on it is the stone of hope.

So, Farris, tell me how would you describe where we are in the arc of his dream and achieving it, where would you say?

Farris: I think every day we’re getting closer to achieving the dream and I think we’re not quite there yet and but we are getting closer.

Scott: Farris says one sign that we are a step closer to fully realizing that dream was the election an African-American president. Farris was in Ebenezer Baptist church that night — the church where Dr. King’s father had been pastor.

Farris: To see that a black man won, everybody was jumping up and down. I started crying. My mom was bawling. My grandma was just overjoyed. She was just so happy. To go from fighting in the civil rights movement alongside her brother and then seeing, because of what he did, that a black man is now president. It just blew her mind.

Scott: Just as Dr. King helped integrate American society, he has now helped to integrate the mall.

“And when you think about, this strong person, this black man, depicted on this, I mean honestly, white stone. When you think about that, it’s a really awesome. Awesome symbol, you know?

“Imagery, symbolism of this monument, of exactly what he stood for, you know? We’re all equal we’re all the same, you know. There really shouldn’t be any distinction. There really shouldn’t be anything you worry about other than the content of your character.”


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