A Louisville, Ky., man who journeyed to Washington but found nothing denoting where Martin Luther King gave his celebrated “I Have a Dream” speech,” has inspired lawmakers to create a memorial.
The man sent a letter about his experience to U.S. Rep. Anne M. Northup, Kentucky Republican, who in 1999 sponsored a House bill to create the memorial.
“There was no notation that stated from where [King] delivered the speech,” she said. “I felt that if school kids come to Washington to be inspired to take up their responsibility when they’re adults, then Martin Luther King and the address he gave and where he stood should be part of the experience.”
The 7-by-20 inch memorial will be etched into the marble step of the Lincoln Memorial on which Mr. King delivered the speech in 1963. The $20,000 memorial marks the 40th anniversary of the speech, delivered Aug. 28 during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Federal officials have always agreed about the speech’s historic significance but until this month have disagreed about where to put a memorial.
National Park Service officials and others had suggested a marker near where King stood so it would not detract from the Lincoln Memorial.
“We disagreed,” said John Cogbill, chairman of the National Capital Planning Commission. “We looked at it and said, ‘No, this is too important.’ And when you look at it, many of the things President Lincoln worked for were included in what Mr. King was saying.”
The commission also got support from King’s widow, Coretta Scott King.
In a letter Sept. 4 she told Mr. Cogbill that a plaque at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial would be “inappropriate, with no real connection to the actual site of the historic speech, and almost as if it is an afterthought.
She called the planning commission’s recommendation “much more appropriate and historically accurate.”
Mrs. King also wrote, “I think it is important to get it right.”
The memorial is scheduled for completion in August and will face east, toward the reflecting pool and the Mall, as King did when he delivered the speech to more than 200,000 civil rights demonstrators.
“When it’s done, I certainly want to go see it and stand there,” Mr. Cogbill said. “I knew approximately where it was. But to be able to stand on that spot, look across the Mall and remember what happened on that day is going to be a very inspiring moment.”
King gave his speech during the height of the civil rights movement, at a peaceful protest that celebrated the 100-year anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. During his speech, King referred to the proclamation by saying, “We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
The speech is often considered a turning point in U.S. history.
Mr. Cogbill also said the plaque is simple, like King was.
“But that simplicity speaks volumes,” he said. “I hope all Americans go there, stand there, remember what was said and done, and draw strength from that to make this a better country and build a better future.”