Tuesday, August 23, 2011

MLK Memorial

Unless you've been living under a 30 foot block of granite, you've noticed the construction of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on Independence Avenue along the Tidal Basin. You probably also know that President Obama will be dedicating DC's newest iconic feature on Sunday. What you might not realize is that the Memorial opened to the public yesterday, allowing you to see it before the President gets his turn.

In short, the statue of Dr. King - controversially sculpted by the Chinese artist, Lei Yixin - emerges from the "stone of hope," which is cut out of the "mountain of despair." The mountain is flanked by famous quotes that focus on justice, democracy, hope, and love. Standing significantly taller than the famous statues of Lincoln, Jefferson, and the Capitol dome's Freedom, Dr. King faces the Tidal Basin and the memorial for Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and the oft referenced words, "...all men are created equal."

This positioning along the Tidal Basin will make for a particularly grand view, especially when the cherry blossoms bloom. However, I found it a bit odd that people are supposed to enter from the Independence Ave. side, through the mountain of despair (MLK and the quotes all face the opposite direction).

Overall, the site provides a powerful yet reflective experience. I thought that the sculpture of Dr. King presents him as stern and determined, rather than angry as some critics initially reported before a redesign was ordered. The space is more expansive that I had imagined but it remains intimate.

There are plenty of benches to relax and soak everything in, and I can imagine taking advantage of them on those warm winter nights when the city feels empty (one of the many benefits of living downtown).

For those of you eager to see the city's latest addition, we were pleased and surprised that at 8pm on the first day we were able to walk right in. While I'm sure we'll have to return a few times to fully appreciate all the nuances of this memorial, I'd encourage anyone to come on down and be part of the opening week. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, sometimes you just have to be a tourist in your own city.

J Says

What a treat to live among such beautiful memorials. Every time we drive back into DC from Virginia and catch a glimpse of the Washington Monument or the Jefferson Memorial, I get goosebumps and remind myself how fortunate I am to get to see these treasures every day.

The MLK Memorial is a new jewel in DC's crown and a new stop on our famous (or infamous) "let's march our visiting friends through every single monument at night to make sure they see it all" tour.

Whether you marched on Washington in 1963 or are just out for a leisurely jog around town, make a point to visit Dr. King and sit a spell. The site and its meaning are guaranteed to give you those fantastic DC goosebumps. . . even in August in the middle of a swamp.

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