A – Z Challenge …….. U is for …..


unveiled…..    at last the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial is unveiled.    (all photos are thumbnails – just click to make any one bigger)The MLK Memorial official dedication was meant to be Sunday but Irene put a dampener on that and the 30,000 folding chairs had to be folded up and put away for some future date. But, before the Memorial was finished I was lucky enough to get a jobsite tour –  we were allowed to take photos but asked not to plaster them all over the web until after the dedication… but then they opened it to the public on the Monday before the (planned) official dedication so I could’ve posted the photos then if I’d had my act together.  Because it was still a construction site the day I visited hard hats were required (that’s why there is no photo of me!)…   The MLK memorial was in the making for more than 25 years and cost $120 million to build.  The memorial takes up 4 acres next to the Tidal Basin, looking over it, to the Roosevelt Memorial and is a “plaza”  type of thing.  180+ new cherry trees and some crepe myrtles have been planted in the area.   The centerpiece is a 30 foot tall granite statue of Dr. King by master sculptor Lei Yixin  – not without controversy as people thought an American sculptor should’ve been chosen.   There is a wall of green granite with quotations inscribed in it and two main statues which represent a “Mountain of Despair”  and a “Stone of Hope”

The inscription on the Stone of Hope is a line from King’s  “I have a dream”  speech delivered in Washington on 28th August  1963.    It’s based on an image from one of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams in the second book of Daniel.   Nebuchadnezzar envisioned a massive idol with a head of gold, arms of silver and thighs of brass.  Daniel prophesied  “As you looked, a stone was cut out by no human hand and it struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces”.  He was prophesying the downfall of the old order.
PHOTOS:  Visitors walk through a pass between peaks of the Mountain of Despair on their way to the Stone of Hope.  
 There are other memorials to African-Americans in Washington DC but this is the first memorial on the National Mall (and only the 4th non-President – the others are George Mason, John Ericsson John Paul Jones).
So how did the monument come to take more than 25 years in the planning/making?  Dr.  King was a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity (Sigma Chapter) while attending Boston University.  In January 1984 Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity brothers propose building a national memorial to Dr. King – the proposal is presented at the Fraternity’s Board of Director’s meeting but the proposal did not gain momentum until King’s birthday was designated a national holiday in 1986 (President Reagan signed the MLK Jr Federal Holiday bill in Nov 1983 but the first legal holiday nationwide was Jan 1986)..   It was  not until 1996 that the US Congress authorized the Secretary of the Interior to allow Alpha Phi Alpha to erect a memorial on Department of Interior land.  They gave the fraternity until November 2003 to raise $100 million and break ground on the project.  Congress authorized the fraternity to establish a foundation in 1998 which would be responsible for managing the fundraising and design of the memorial and in 1999 the US Commission of Fine Arts and the National Planning Commission approved the location for the memorial.
There were 900 entries in the design “competition”  from 52 countries and the selected design was by ROMA Design Group of San Francisco.  On December 4, 2000 a marble and bronze plaque was laid by Alpha Phi Alpha to dedicate the site.
PHOTO:  MLK and the Washington Monument
 In 2001 Intellectual Properties Management –  an organization operated by Dr. King’s family, requested the foundation pay licensing fees to use MLK’s name and likeness in their marketing campaigns.  Many said that King would be horrified by the profiteering behavior of his children but the foundation did pay fees including a management fee of $71,700 in 2003 and an $800,000 licensing deal in 2009 (to use King’s words and image in fundraising materials).
On November 13th 2006 a ceremonial groundbreaking took place and things were looking good.
Then in January 2007 it was announced that Lei Yixin (China) would be the sculptor for the King statue and the Stone of Hope.  There was criticism of this choice as Lei had sculpted Mao Zedong; there were also accusations that the choice was made because the Chinese government had donated $25 million to the memorial.
PHOTO –  Lei Yixin’s signature appears on the bottom of the Dr. King statue
 Then it was discovered that Chinese granite was going to be used!………    It was argued that because Congress had given $10 million in federal money to the project that there had to be open bidding. The design team visited the Chinese quarry in October 2006 and stated that the Chinese granite far exceeded the quality of any found in the United States. Protestors argued that the selection of an African-American artist and use of American granite was integral to the memorial’s legacy.  The Commission of Fine Arts objected to the “colossal scale and Social Realist style of the proposed sculpture”  and noted that it “recalls a genre of political sculpture that has recently been pulled down in other countries”.    But final design of the statue was approved in September 2008.
In August 2008 the foundation had estimated it would take about 20 months to complete the memorial at a cost of $120 million and by December 2008 they’d raised $108 million.
 But then there was a dispute, over security issues, between the federal agencies that had to approve the memorial.  National Parks Service wanted barriers built to prevent a vehicle crashing or being driven into the memorial. The foundation thought a barrier would not be in keeping with King’s philosophy of openness.  Plans were eventually revised to have  landscaping features act as barriers – they were approved in 2009 and in October 2009 a building permit was issued and construction began (at last) in December 2009.
PHOTOS:  the landscaping is designed to prevent vehicles going too far … 
 There was further controversy in October 2010 when the Bricklayers and Allied Craftsworkers’ union discovered that laborers on the stone work were Chinese and that their pay was being withheld until they returned to China!  (In September 2010 the foundation assured everyone that local stonemasons would be employed).
And just today there is controversy over the abbreviated “Drum Major… ” quote inscribed on the statue (Washington Post article)
Still, in spite of all the controversy the memorial got built and is now open – the date of the official dedication is still to be announced.
PHOTOLooking through the MLK Memorial with the Jefferson peeking out across the Tidal Basin:
  PHOTO –  The Inscription Wall.   There are 14 inscriptions on the inscription wall which is a divided wall 450 feet long.  There are excerpts from King’s sermons and speeches – from the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott in Alabama to his final sermon in DC’s National Cathedral in 1968.
PHOTO –  there are two quotations on the sides of the Stone of Hope:  “Out of the Mountain of Despair, a Stone of Hope”  and “I was a Drum Major for Justice, Peace and Righteousness”  –
PHOTO  – this is the square under which President Obama will lay a time capsule.  When I was showing my photos to the manservant I said “do you know how I know this is not an accident?   Because 2 shadow cameras are aimed at the same slab of cement”.

33 responses

    • At the moment it looks stark with all the cement, stone and granite – I think it will look much better once the trees and other “greenery” grow. The King statue is quite imposing as it towers above the visitor.

  1. illustrating the fact that “I’m a horrible person” I became completely distracted when you mentioned Nebuchadnezzar because I had no idea it’s a biblical term but happen to know that’s the term for a bottle of champagne which hold the equiv of 20 regular bottles of champagne.

    now back to being respectful and reading the rest of your post.

  2. Oh my word, what a fuss over petty things and not enough over what’s really important. (I heard about Maya Angelou’s complaint about the quote, and I agree with her after having read the full sermon from which the truncated quote was taken.) A lot of carping was done over the Vietnam Memorial as well, but now people from all over visit it and take rubbings of the names and leave tributes. I hope people will feel the same about the King Memorial later, when the dust has settled. I admit I’m not wild about the overall design, but after all these years, finally something has been done to honor a man who gave so much to his country. Too bad his message has been so diluted and co-opted by his children and organizations wanting to exploit his name.

    • I remember the first time I saw the Vietnam Memorial – I was incredibly affected – I don’t think there are many that can stand in front of that wall and not feel something. I saw Maya Lin interviewed once – she was only 21, I think, when she won that design competition. She said that if the selectors had been told names of the contestants she never would have won.
      I think it’s basically impossible to build any memorial that everyone is happy with and which goes up without controversy – too many emotions involved.

  3. I think the whole thing looks fascinating and cool.
    Big eyeroll at all the controversy and blah and blah and blah. It’s a flippin’ wonder anything ever gets done at all.

    I am very glad it is pretty much finished! The man was a wonder!

  4. This is a GREAT share. I have never been to DC, would love to go but I often travel alone and it’s TOO BIG of a city for this country mouse to even think about going on her own. I’d love to see this!

    • Sometimes DC seems more like a big town than a national capital – though every quadrant is very full of monuments. I think you’d love the museums and galleries – I hope you make it for a visit one day – I could do a museum with you.

    • The memorial does have an interesting & checkered history doesn’t it! I’m looking forward to visiting again, later in the day though, so I can see it all under lights. I think it’s open until 10pm at night.

  5. That is great that you got a before-hand tour! The place looks interesting. Hopefully, as you said, it will look less stark when the trees grow and such. Rather amazing that it took so long but here it is!

    • I was thrilled to be able to see it before it opened – though it was a really hot day in July! The day after I’d been through they put a big shroud over the statue so no-one could see it until they unveiled it last week. Everything seems to take a long time to get done in DC – it must be incredibly frustrating for developers and builders.

  6. Wow, you did your research! I was up in DC a few months ago, and I saw that construction–and I wondered what that was. XD I should have known, but I wasn’t thinking! Great post! What a great opportunity to get a tour before it was even unveiled! 😀 😀 😀

  7. I think it looks beautiful. Such a shame about the granite, though. As a geologist I can tell you there is plenty of beautiful granite in the USA. (Devil’s Tower, anyone?) The whole Chinese thing feels a bit wonky. If it makes anyone feel better, a lot of people over here buy slate that is quarried from other countries when there’s an arse-load of it here, and some of it famous for its beauty.

    • I have a beautiful granite desk at work – the granite comes from South Africa. 8 years ago, when it was new, I knew the name of it as people would ask all the time – I’ve forgotten now. More emphasis should be put on buying “local” for so many products! Having said that though, if I see Australian products here I just have to buy them! 🙂

    • I only became aware of the memorial being built about 4 years ago when the Chinese sculptor was announced. If you do decide to come to DC in November let me know……. it can be cold then but normally not snowy.

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