Memorial dedicated to US civil rights leader

Obama salutes Martin Luther King Jr and his commitment to equality, justice and peaceful resistance.

John Terret reported from Washington DC in advance of the formal dedication of the monument [Al Jazeera]

Barack Obama has saluted Martin Luther King Jr as a man who “stirred our conscience” while giving the new memorial to the slain civil rights leader a proper dedication on the National Mall after its opening in August.

Singers Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder and poet Nikki Giovanni were among those who honoured the legacy of the nation’s foremost civil rights leader during a ceremony attended by thousands of people.

“I know we will overcome,” Obama proclaimed, standing before the nine-metre granite monument to King on the National Mall.

 “I know this, because of the man towering over us”.

Obama and his wife, Michelle, and Vice-President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, joined a host of civil rights figures for the dedication on the sun-splashed Mall. The memorial is the first to a black man on the National Mall and its parks.

“He had faith in us,” Obama said.

Obama, who was six when King was assassinated in 1968, told the crowd: “And that is why he belongs on this Mall: Because he saw what we might become.”

Broad themes

In his talk, Obama focused on King’s broad themes – equality, justice and peaceful resistance – as the nation confronts, 48 years after King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, some of the same issues of war, an economic crisis and a lingering distrust of government in some quarters.

Referring to citizen protests against the wealthy and powerful that have spread from Wall Street and Washington, even abroad, Obama said: “Dr King would want us to challenge the excesses of Wall Street without demonising those who work there.”

The monument, situated between the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials in what the designers call a “line of leadership”, was 15 years in the making.

Several speakers noted that its designers could not have predicted then that the monument would be dedicated by the nation’s first black president.

Obama urged Americans to harness the energy of the civil rights movement for today’s challenges and to remain committed to King’s philosophy of peaceful resistance.

“Let us draw strength from those earlier struggles,” Obama said. “Change has never been simple or without controversy.”

About 1.5 million people are estimated to have visited the statue of King and the granite walls where 14 of his quotations are carved in stone.

As pastor of an Alabama church, King led the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955-56 that led to a US Supreme Court decision that declared unconstitutional laws requiring segregation on buses.

Inspired by Gandhi

King then was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference which provided leadership to the growing civil rights movement and drew inspiration from the non-violent tactics used by Mahatma Gandhi.

King led the massive civil rights protest in Birmingham, Alabama, and wrote the inspirational Letters from a Birmingham Jail.

In 1963, he directed a peaceful civil rights march by 250,000 people in Washington where he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech with its vision of a colour-blind society.

The following year, congress passed the landmark Civil Rights Act and at age 35 he became the youngest man to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. He was assassinated in 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was
supporting a strike by sanitation workers.

The sculpture of King with his arms crossed appears to emerge from a stone extracted from a mountain. It was carved by Chinese artist Lei Yixin. The design was inspired by a line from the “I Have a Dream” speech: “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies


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