Saturday 17 Jan, 2015

From Concept to Creation: Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial


Memorials provide an opportunity to reflect on events and people of the past.

Knowing the historical context of any memorial and its reason for creation is a step in the right direction, but we’ve all been in that situation where you quickly walk around the perimeter.  You know a little about what you see, but you never fully appreciate the intricacies that were carefully incorporated into the design.

In celebration of the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., we took a look at the history behind how this memorial came to be the way it is today.

Over 20 years in the making

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial was officially opened on August 22, 2011 and is the result of more than two decades of planning, fundraising and construction.

Dr. King is only the fourth non-President to be memorialized in such a way.

As such, there were over 900 applicants from more than 52 countries looking to be selected as the designer of the future memorial.

The design of the memorial invites you to move through the struggles that Dr. King faced during his life.

Gazing into the future

This memorial is truly breathtaking. It is serenely located on 4 acres next to the Tidal Basin and is settled close to other well-visited memorials like the Lincoln, Jefferson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorials. It is also only a stone’s throw away from where Dr. King gave his famous “I Have a Dream Speech.”

Where the carve-out of Dr. King proudly stands, his gaze is directed towards the Cherry Trees of the Tidal Basin. Here, he peers into the horizon, forever encouraging all citizens to strive for justice and equality.

Even the physical address of1964 Independence Avenue  was carefully chosen. 1964 serves as a reference to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, responsible for outlawing discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex of national origin. It also ended unequal application of voter registration requirements and racial segregation in schools, at the workplace and by facilities that served the general public.

Finding Hope through Despair

Walking into the memorial, you step up to the Mountain of Despair.

Originally one stone, this was carved into two halves, allowing visitors passage to the center of the memorial, where you encounter the Stone of Hope.

This 30-foot sculpture shows Martin Luther King, Jr. powerfully emerging from the center victorious over the mountain.

Both the Mountain of Despair and Stone of Hope come from his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.


The journey in the memorial ends by arriving in the open freedom of the plaza. Here is where you encounter the Inscription Wall.

This wall is adorned with 14 carefully selected quotes. Each quote stems from one of Dr. King’s primary messages of justice, democracy, hope and love.

The quotes are not arranged in chronological order meaning there is no need for a defined path when walking around.

Inscription Wall Quotes

  • “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
  • “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
  • “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”
  • “Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.”
  • “I oppose the war in Vietnam because I love America. I speak out against it not in anger but with anxiety and sorrow in my heart, and above all with a passionate desire to see our beloved country stand as a moral example of the world.”
  • “If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.”
  • “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.”
  • “I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.”
  • “It is not enough to say “We must not wage war.” It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it. We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war, but on the positive affirmation of peace.”
  • “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
  • “Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.”
  • “We are determined here in Montgomery to work and fight until justice runs down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
  • “We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience.”
  • “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.”

History is our shared story of where we’ve been. On your next educational tour to Washington, D.C., share this learned story and memorial’s rich design with your fellow travelers.