Very seldom is it that an individual makes such noteworthy contributions to society that both a splendid sculpture is raised in his likeness and birthday is a nationally recognized holiday.
Such is the case regarding the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Since 1986, King’s birthday has been recognized as a federal holiday. After more than two decades of planning, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial was opened to the general public in October 2011.
The monument is located in West Potomac Park, between the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials, in Washington, D.C.
Of particular note, the statute is the first monument on the National Mall for a non-president or an African-American.
Born to a religious family in Atlanta on Jan. 15, 1929, King grew up in the relative comfort of the black middle class. An exceptionally good student, King entered prestigious Morehouse College in Atlanta, at age 15.
After earning a bachelor’s degree, he traveled to Crozer Seminary, located near Philadelphia, to study theology.
From Crozer, he went on to Boston University, where he earned a doctorate in theology and also met his future wife, Coretta Scott.
Of a less positive note, King later would be accused of plagiarism regarding his degree from Boston University.
By now, most are aware that King preached “nonviolence,” which served as his social-political platform.
Now, here’s a bit of relevant information that even some of you civil rights scholars might be unaware of: As the records indicate, King embraced the teachings of Mohandas Gandhi, the internationally famous Indian peace guru, who stressed nonviolence and “noncooperation with evil.”
Interestingly, Gandhi had assumed his stance of nonviolence after reading an essay written by Henry David Thoreau, titled “On Civil Disobedience,” according to Trumpet of Conscience: a Portrait of Martin Luther King Jr., a book written by Stephen B. Oates.
Sadly, at age 39, at the peak of his career, King was fatally struck down by a single sniper’s bullet April 4, 1968, as he stood in front of Room 306 of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. The Lorraine Motel now serves as the National Civil Rights Museum.
Many questions still swirl concerning King’s assassin and how the case, quite possibly, was mishandled by local and state law enforcement officials.
Not only is The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial a permanent caricature of a historically prominent figure, the geographic location is also quite fitting.
For it was at the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963, King gave his historically timeless “I Have a Dream” speech to a mixed crowd of approximately 250,000.
It was this brilliant, societal-altering oration that catapulted him from a status of well-known, well-spoken clergyman to an omnipresent voice and symbol for the Civil Rights Movement.
White folks, including rock musicians Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and the trio Peter, Paul & Mary, lobbied the crowd by way of song that fateful day – all, essentially, saying they were not merely blowin’ in the wind, but that, indeed, the times needed a-changin’!
Black gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, who was also a Civil Rights activist, drew deep from her soul to perform spiritual hymnals handed down to her from her enslaved ancestors, using her powerful singing voice to make it known to the enormous crowd how she felt.
On that hot August day at the Lincoln Memorial, black stood next to white, liberal stood next to conservative, and outlaw stood next to church member.
And the commonality amongst them was this: They all listened.
King’s message took priority over individual perspectives.
It was a definitive cultural crossroads of sorts in American history.
Mike Vinson can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.