Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the most prominent figures in the Civil Rights Movement of the 20th century, fighting racial inequality, advocating for voting rights, and championing desegregation movements. He was integral to shaping the country we know today, and our nation’s capital honors his legacy with the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.
Where Is It Located?
Located in Washington, D.C. along the National Mall’s Tidal Basin, the memorial sits near the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the location of Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Its exact address is 1964 Independence Avenue, SW, in honor of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Visitors are able to take in both memorials with ease. From the Lincoln Memorial, visitors can walk southeast less than one mile, just eight minutes, to arrive at the MLK memorial.
What Is Its History?
In the late ’90s, Congress granted Alpha Phi Alpha, Dr. King’s fraternity, the ability to establish a Washington, D.C. Memorial. The Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation soon announced a design competition, and almost 1,000 artists submitted their ideas. In 2000, a submission was selected.
The focal point of the memorial is inspired by a line from that renowned 1963 speech: “With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.”
Two large walls of granite, metaphorical mountains of despair, stand in front of a 30-foot sculpture of Dr. King entitled the Stone of Hope. The edges of these sculptures all feature scrape marks, symbolizing the struggles of Dr. King and the Civil Rights movement. Two walls of quotes are engraved with some of his most famous words. Among the quotes:
- “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
- “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
- “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.”
In 2007, in order to create the striking, lifelike portrait of Dr. King the foundation recruited renowned Chinese sculptor Lei Yixin. He worked closely with both the foundation and Dr. King’s family throughout the construction process.
After more than 20 years of design and construction, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial opened to the public on August 28, 2011, on the 48th anniversary of the March on Washington. It was the first National Mall memorial to honor a citizen activist rather than a president or war hero.
How Can I See It?
The memorial is open 24 hours a day, with no fee required to visit. While the early mornings and evenings are the quietest times to visit, there are also ranger-led programs and tours.
The memorial is surrounded by cherry blossom trees, and those who visit late March through mid-April are treated to the beauty of the trees in full bloom.
Though the memorial itself is outdoors, it is surrounded by restaurants, bookstores, and bathrooms. Other nearby memorials include the Jefferson Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial.
Martin Luther King Jr. is an integral figure in American history, and his memorial is a beautiful, thought-provoking look at the activism, marches, and protests of the past, as well as an inspirational look at the future. For more D.C. inspiration, consider: