Martin Luther King Jr stood 9m tall as a memorial to him was unveiled on Monday, the first on the National Mall in the US’ capital not dedicated to a war, president or white man.
Fifteen years after a Congressional Joint Resolution in 1996 to establish a memorial to honor King, the four-acre site on the Tidal Basin between the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials in Washington, DC, opened to the public for the first time.
Visitors will walk through two massive white granite halves of the “Mountain of Despair” to reach the “Stone of Hope,” from which the sculpture of King emerges.
The winning design from an international contest was inspired by the line from King’s I Have a Dream speech, “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”
Behind King’s sculpture, on either side of the mountain, is a 137m wall inscribed with 14 quotations from the famous orator’s speeches, sermons and writings.
His arms are folded, with one hand holding his rolled-up Dream speech, said sculptor Lei Yi-xin (雷宜鋅), who is a Chinese citizen.
“Dr King’s vision is still living, in our minds; we still miss him, we still need him,” Lei said through a translator, who described the sculpture as the most important of his life.
“I am trying to present Dr King as ready to step out ... this is King’s spirit, to judge people from their character, not race, color or background,” he said.
The memorial will be presented to US President Barack Obama and dedicated in a celebration on Sunday, marking the anniversary of the Dream speech delivered from the steps of the nearby Lincoln Memorial 48 years ago.
King, the youngest man to have received the Nobel Peace Prize and the leader of the US Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, led a peaceful march on Washington on that date in 1963. A crowd of 250,000 heard his Dream speech at the march, five years before his assassination in Memphis, Tensessee, in 1968.
One visitor to the new memorial said she believes King would be pleased if he could see how far the US has come since the 1960s.
“He would be ecstatic because President Obama is in the White House and that is a huge step,” said Nydria Humphries, who hung on the fence outside before the memorial opened to the the public.
“That’s all MLK stood for,” she added. “If we can just learn to live together, then we all can have a better life.”