Reflections on the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
By Sister Diane G.
Today is the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. A few weekends ago, my friend Claire and I made our way into Washington, DC during the height of the Cherry Blossom Festival to visit Dr. King’s memorial. The crowds were so dense and the traffic so congested that several roads were blocked to traffic, making it difficult to even find our way to our destination. But we were not to be deterred.
Several trips around the Tidal Basin finally found us on the road to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. We found a parking spot and made our way through cherry blossomed paths to the entrance of the Memorial. The path was crowded with tourists and many children and young adults on class trips.
I approached the statue of Dr. King from the side entrance. I stopped and gazed upon a 30 foot mountain of rock. Looking closer, one could see that the middle section of the rock had been removed and moved forward. From that rock, emerged an immense statue of Dr. King carved in the stone. From my vantage point I had a perfect view of King’s profile. I was drawn to the quote on the side of the stone:
Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope.
I thought, Martin Luther King, Jr. was that stone of hope, steeped in a belief that nonviolence was the way to change unjust systems and structures. How difficult that must have been! How deep must have been his faith and his unwavering belief in the possibilities for a people and in the hope of a nation that would embrace all people with equality and justice.
As I gazed at the immense figure of Dr. King and read the quotes on the granite walls surrounding the memorial, tears flowed and they were unstoppable. A young woman of color, approached me tentatively and asked, “Ma’am, are you alright?” All I could do was nod for I was unable to speak. I was caught up in remembering the moments of history I had first watched on TV as a child seeing fire hoses turned on children, hearing screams and seeing people beaten. I did not understand it then and I do not understand it now.
I gazed across the Potomac River and thought of the day in 1963 when I stood with thousands of others on the mall and listened to Odetta and Peter, Paul, and Mary singing about a future that would be different. I heard Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaim the dream he had for all God’s children and I asked myself, “When will this be?”
I watched young children scampering around the statue of Dr. King. What do they understand about the sacrifices made, the people who died, and the events that shaped the Civil Rights Movement?
I dried my tears and left this place but the experience remains with me. The determination to be sure that all children know about the Movement, the commitment to work for change, the hope renewed within my soul that our world can be more inclusive and just. Structures and systems can change but it takes hard work and the will to stay with it even when it may seem hopeless. Dr. King’s legacy demands no less from me.
April 4th is the anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination.