On the MLK Memorial–Celebrating “A Day That Would Not Be Denied”

MLK National Memorial, image courtesy of The Oregonian

We write today to share some beautiful images of the dedication of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial, as well as a thoughtful meditation by UNC Press author Blair L. M. Kelley on the subject of King’s work and legacy.

We have these images because my colleague, Alison Shay, climbed on the dollar bus to Washington last weekend and took these photos.  Allison works with the Publishing the Long Civil Rights Movement Project, which is a unique collaboration we’re honored to be a part of.  Click through to read more about it and to see the good work they do every day.

I asked Alison to tell me a bit about her experience that day. She writes:

Perhaps most striking was the true sense of friendship, enthusiasm, and joy exhibited amongst attendees of every race, gender, and ethnicity. During Stevie Wonder’s performance of “Happy Birthday,” most audience members jumped to their feet and started dancing with the people around them—many of whom were complete strangers. Whites, African Americans, Latinos, men, women, and children moved together, laughing and singing along with the music. In that moment, it was clear how much has changed in the 48 years since Martin Luther King, Jr. stood nearby and spoke about his dream for America’s future.

Visit the LCRM Project website  to view the whole slide show and to read much more by Alison.  And while you’re there, we encourage you to take a look at some of the work the Project does to further dialogue and keep Dr. King’s dream alive.

We’d also like to send you over to the grio to read what UNC Press author Blair L. M. Kelley writes about the monument, the man, and the movement.  Kelley emphasizes all the leaders of the movement, the many ways they worked for civil rights, and length of the–very much still ongoing–movement. Here’s a tidbit of it, and please click through to read the whole essay.

So it is wonderful to see King memorialized in Washington, D.C. between presidents who were architects of a vision of American citizenship. At the helm of the civil rights movement, King called into question what citizenship meant if it was not extended on an equal basis to all Americans, reminding all of us all of the “inescapable network of mutuality” and teaching us that all Americans are “tied in a single garment of destiny.”

However, it is precisely that mutuality and collectivity that we must remember as we memorialize King.

Kelley emphasizes that though this is a monument which honors one man, it is also a monument to all many others, even including ourselves.  President Obama speech touched on the same theme. (The title of today’s blog post is also a quote from President Obama’s speech.) Below is an excerpt.

For this day, we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s return to the National Mall. In this place, he will stand for all time, among monuments to those who fathered this nation and those who defended it; a black preacher with no official rank or title who somehow gave voice to our deepest dreams and our most lasting ideals, a man who stirred our conscience and thereby helped make our union more perfect.

And Dr. King would be the first to remind us that this memorial is not for him alone. The movement of which he was a part depended on an entire generation of leaders. Many are here today, and for their service and their sacrifice, we owe them our everlasting gratitude. This is a monument to your collective achievement.

In all these images and words, what strikes me is the sense of participation and unity, as well as the fact that even while we celebrate the life and work of a man who died over forty years ago, we–we all–are still urgently called upon to act to help realize Dr. King’s vision.  The story we celebrate is still very much one in progress.