As final preparations get underway for the dedication of the memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the National Mall, it is important that we all reflect upon and applaud the many outstanding achievements of this great American patriot and iconic humanitarian. With his life he proved that non-violence is an effective way of perfecting social change. His leadership helped propel our nation from the dark and regressive grips of the Jim Crow era to a more enlightened period where the goals of achieving equal opportunity and respect for universal human rights are now becoming more intricately woven into our society.
The August 28, 2011 unveiling ceremony of the memorial will mark the 48th anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech during the historic March on Washington in 1963. This speech and Dr. King’s unyielding commitment to service have been sources of inspirational motivation for me from the time I met him during my freshman year at Morehouse College, through law school, my years in the Georgia state legislature and throughout my tenure in the U.S. House of Representatives.
But in looking beyond the historical importance of the upcoming anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech and Dr. King’s commitment to service, I believe that it is extremely important for Americans to fully appreciate the significance and substantive relevance of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.
When looking at the monument’s symbolic importance, it is worth noting that Dr. King will be the first African-American to be honored with a memorial on the Mall and it will be the only one that does not commemorate a president or a war. Additionally, the placement of Dr. King’s memorial should not be overlooked as his statue will stand on four acres of land positioned directly between the Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln memorials.
And while I will certainly join others in celebrating the fact that Dr. King is the first African-American to have a memorial on the Mall and absolutely rejoice in his monument’s prominent location, it is my sincere hope that visitors to his memorial will be forever reminded and struck by how his leadership positively transformed our society and catalyzed other social justice movements around the world.
Since Dr. King’s passing in 1968, there have been many liberation movements that have drawn inspiration from his teachings. When examining South Africa’s departure from apartheid or analyzing the freedom movements of the 20th and 21st centuries, one cannot help but appreciate how these events are the fruits of seeds whose origins come from Dr. King’s life and legacy.
The overarching message of this memorial to current generations and generations yet unborn should be that Dr. King’s achievements helped make our union a more perfect union. Moreover, his achievements are yet working to ensure the promise of our constitution to protect the rights of all Americans. Finally, it is important that this memorial’s ultimate impact be to help citizens of the world better understand and embrace the goal of freedom and equality for all mankind.