The long march toward universal freedom and equality that has become the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. made another historic stop in Washington, D.C., where a memorial to the civil rights leader on the Mall this week began receiving visitors from around the nation.
Crowds, including pioneers of the civil rights movement, began arriving days in advance of scheduled dedication ceremonies — now indefinitely delayed because of the threat of ominous weekend storms. But while the ceremonies have been delayed, the monument will remain open to visitors Friday and part of Saturday. Officials said it remains to be determined whether the monument will be open to the public as a new date for the dedication is finalized.
Among the first to arrive this week was 85-year-old Anna Simkins, who as a young college student met King in North Carolina.
"He was a quiet man, but he changed the world," said Ms. Simkins, standing before the memorial's 30-foot-tall King statue that overlooks the Tidal Basin and is within view of the Lincoln Memorial, where in 1963 King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech during the historic March on Washington.
In some ways, the unveiling of the memorial marked the closing of a chapter in the history of the slain civil rights leader and a nearly three-decade effort to honor him.
"We never dreamed that one day a monument would be built to a prophet, not a president," said the Rev. Grainger Browning Jr. of the Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Fort Washington, of the first monument on the Mall honoring a black man — or anyone who was not a president.
But organizers and business and political leaders have urged Americans along the way to see the memorial as a reminder of the ongoing struggle for human rights, not just civil rights.
"We pray to Jesus that we will not be satisfied until freedom rings, until every hill and valley is lifted," Mr. Browning told hundreds gathered Thursday at a luncheon in the District. "Until that day, we will keep on marching."
He was joined by U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., the first black man to serve as the country's top law-enforcement officer, who suggested King's work today would include efforts to find jobs for the millions of unemployed people and to help poor children.
"We are not yet where we need to be," he said. "Each one of us has the power and the obligation to improve the lives of others."
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, civil rights leader and former U.S. presidential candidate, added, "It's time to come back to Washington to fight for jobs."
The arms-crossed granite likeness of King, in which he appears to be emerging from rugged stone, was inspired by a passage in the Dream speech: "Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope."
Yet nowhere in the four-acre memorial — including the curving, 450-foot-long granite wall engraved with iconic King quotes — can words in the Dream speech be found.
Organizerssaid that the entire memorial is a homage to the speech, and that they wanted to spread King's lesser-known but equally important messages.
Foundation President Harry Johnson Sr. said Thursday before the postponement of the ceremonies that the adversity — be it the threat of the storm or the 5.8 magnitude earthquake that shook the region Tuesday — was similar to the "natural and human distractions" King faced in his pursuit of justice, democracy, hope and love.
To be sure, the effort to build the memorial has endured its share of human struggles since brothers from the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, to which King also belonged, conceived the idea in 1984.
After President Clinton signed congressional legislation in 1996 proposing the establishment of a memorial in the District to honor King, organizers soon embarked on a tireless fundraising effort to cover the $120 million cost, paid mostly through corporate and private donations.
Still, the foundation reports being roughly $6 million short, in part because it reportedly had to pay the King family more than $700,000 for licensing rights.
The foundation also successfully fought in 1999 to have the memorial built along the Tidal Basin within the sight lines of the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials.
Other concerns have focused on the sculptor, Lei Yixin of China.
One argument was that organizers should have chosen a black American artist. Human rights activists said Mr. Lei produced numerous icons of communist leader Mao Zedong, while others said the stern-faced, arms-crossed likeness of King, in the so-called Stone of Hope, looks too confrontational and that the color of the imported granite mutes his blackness.
Still, the events leading up to the dedication of the memorial have brought people from across the county. President Obama, the county's first black president, is expected to speak. And among those who committed to attend or perform are Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin and Jamie Foxx.
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