King's Memorial To Stand Among D.C.'s Honored

Washington is set to unveil its latest memorial, a tribute to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. We tour the site, which is set to open this August.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday will be celebrated on Monday, would've turned 82 today. A new honor for Dr. King is set to open in Washington, D.C. in August - s $120 million memorial, paid for mostly with private and corporate donations. NPR's Allison Keyes recently toured the site and she has this report.

ALLISON KEYES: A blast of winter weather this week left the site muddy and a little slippery. But the major features on this four-acre site are in place and if you close your eyes, you can almost hear the rustling of the 185 cherry trees that are being planted here.

Mr. HARRY JOHNSON (President, Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial´┐ŻProject´┐ŻFoundation): If you look to your left, that's the part of the south wall...

KEYES: Memorial Foundation president Harry Johnson led a tour through the site beginning with the path that will lead through the sculpture called the Mountain of Despair. He loves the stone and urged visitors to touch it.

Mr. JOHNSON: This is granite. And if you look at the tone of the granite beige in color, brown and black speckles resembling a person of color.

KEYES: Looking through the mountain which is split into two pieces you see a third stone called the Stone of Hope. The concept comes from Dr. King's legendary "I Have a Dream" speech as he spoke about his faith that one day the races would join together as sisters and brothers.

(Soundbite of archived recording)

Dr. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. (Civil Rights Leader): With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.

KEYES: Once past the mountain, visitors will follow the sweeping arc of the inscription wall a tapering crescent containing 14 of Dr. King's quotes.

Representative ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON (Democrat, Washington, D.C.): Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

KEYES: Washington, D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton read part of one of the inscriptions aloud. She's a longtime civil rights activist, and was on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial behind Dr. King as he spoke. Norton says this memorial is what the nation needs, even if it is beyond what an unpretentious man would've wanted.

Rep. NORTON: This is not simply a memorial to King. It's a memorial to the movement he led, and that is how he would regard it. One has to really come to grips with the deep humility of this man. He would never have wanted a memorial like this.

KEYES: This memorial, says Washington, D.C. Mayor Vince Gray, and King's beliefs, will inspire young people especially since we live in a world of violence.

Mayor VINCE GRAY (Washington, D.C.): What we hope is that those who are role models in the lives of our children especially their parents will bring them down here and help them understand the significance of these words and help them understand who this man was.

KEYES: But the most striking feature here is the towering sculpture of Dr. King himself on the Stone of Hope. He stands, looking over the tidal basin toward the Jefferson Memorial. And the cherry trees that will adorn the site will be in bloom every year on the anniversary of his death.

Allison Keyes, NPR News, Washington.

SIMON: This is NPR News.

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