A "King" now stands tall among the presidents on the National Mall. At the dedication on October 16, 2011, President Barack Obama said, "This is a day that would not be denied." The memorial opened 15 years after Congress approved it in 1996 and 82 years after the famed civil rights leader was born in 1929.
Located strategically between the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials and adjacent to the FDR Memorial, the crescent-shape King Memorial sits on
a 4-acre site on the curved bank of the Tidal Basin.
There are two main ways to enter the memorial. From West Basin Drive, walk through a center walkway cut out of a huge boulder, the Mountain of Despair. From the Tidal Basin entrance, a 28-foot tall granite boulder shows King looking out toward Jefferson. The symbolism of the mountain and stone are explained by King's words: "With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope." The centerpiece stone was carved by Chinese sculptor Lei Yixin; his design was chosen from more than 900 entries in an international competition. Fittingly, Yixin first read about King's "I Have a Dream" speech at age 10 while visiting the Lincoln Memorial.
The themes of democracy, justice, hope, and love are reflected through quotes on the south and north walls and on the Stone of Hope. The quotes reflect speeches, sermons, and writings penned by King from 1955 through 1968. Waterfalls in the memorial reflect King's use of the biblical quote: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream."
Allow about 20 to 30 minutes at this memorial, which was designed as a place for reflection.
Cross West Basin Drive to visit the Park Ranger station and gift shop, which sells books on MLK for all ages and a variety of keepsakes.
Where are the words "I have a dream?" You won't find them set in stone. You also won't see any mention of King's race or religion in the quotes.
Walk over to the Lincoln Memorial, where you can stand on the same step where King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech. A plaque marks the exact spot.
Contrary to popular belief, King wasn't the first African-American with a memorial in D.C. That honor belongs to Mary McLeod Bethune, founder of the National Council of Negro Women and an informal adviser to FDR. Bethune is depicted in a 17-foot-tall bronze statue (Lincoln Park, East Capitol and 12th Sts. NE). King is, however, the first African-American to be placed in Area 1 of the National Mall.