- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 10, 2011

D.C. officials want city residents to be among the first visitors to the long-awaited Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial and to insist that what the civil rights leader “has done for our country must also be done for the residents of our nation’s capital.”

Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to descend on the District in the final days of August for the dedication of the memorial along the Tidal Basin.

A week of events before the Aug. 28 dedication includes a D.C. Residents Day on Aug. 23 and a march for D.C. statehood on Aug. 27.

City residents frequently go out of their way to host visitors in the nation’s capital, “so it’s fitting that Washingtonians have a special day,” Mayor Vincent C. Gray said.

The mayor held a news briefing Wednesday to release details about the dedication and to tour the site, which still featured scaffolding near the sculpture and construction near a visitors’ center across the street from the memorial.

“Frankly, what better moment to seize than this one to further the cause of democracy in the city?” Mr. Gray said.

Congress approved construction of the memorial in 1996 at a site bordered by West Basin Drive, Independence Avenue and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial.

The granite memorial includes the “Mountain of Despair” and a “Stone of Hope” that features a sculpture of King looking out over the water. A semicircular wall is inscribed with some of King’s famous quotations.

The MLK Memorial Foundation has raised $112 million of the $120 million needed to complete the memorial, according to a biography of foundation CEO Harry E. Johnson Sr.

Mr. Gray and D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who was active in the civil rights movement, drew numerous comparisons between the struggles of the 1960s and the plight of city residents today.

In 1965, King said that Congress had been “derelict” in its duty to make freedom a reality for all residents of the District, Mr. Gray said.

“That is as contemporary today as it was 45 years ago when he stated those profound words,” the mayor said. “And we need to use those words as an opportunity to continue to promote justice and equality in our city.”

Mrs. Norton, a nonvoting member of the U.S. House of Representatives, said Congress asks D.C. residents to obey its laws and then “tithes us to support the national government” without a vote on Capitol Hill.

King’s body of work was centered in the South, Mrs. Norton noted. Since then, black voters in Southern states have had the privilege of sending members to Congress.

“But I went south as a Washingtonian,” she said of her work in the 1960s. “And today my own city is singled out without a vote, standing alone.”