The Martin Luther King Monument
Who Was He?
Martin Luther King, Jr. was born as Michael Luther King in Atlanta, Georgia on January 15, 1929. King was so intelligent that he graduated from high school at 15 years old and went directly into college. In 1948, at the age of 19, he graduated from Morehouse College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology.
The church soon called to King. Shortly after graduating from Morehouse College, King attended his first integrated school, Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. Graduating from Crozer in 1951 with a Bachelor of Divinity degree.
In 1955, MLK, Jr. became Dr. Martin Luther King when he earned his PhD in Theology from Boston University.
It was while attending school in Boston that King met his future wife, Coretta Scott, who was attending the nearby New England Conservatory of Music. The two were married on June 18, 1953 and went on to have four children: Martin Luther III, Dexter Scott, Yolanda Denise, and Bernice Albertine.
How He Came to Be a Peaceful Leader
In 1955, the Montgomery Bus boycott broke out (inspired by Rosa Parks) and lasted a little over a year. On December 21, 1956, the Supreme Court deemed bus segregation unconstitutional. King, however, suffered consequences. He was arrested, beaten, and his house was bombed. Between 1957-1968, he traveled about 6 million miles and spoke over 2,500 times wherever there were riots or protests. He ultimately delivered his now famous “I Have A Dream” speech in Washington, DC where 250,000 people showed up and listened.
During his roughly 13 year leadership of the Civil Rights Movement, King was assaulted multiple times and arrested at least 20 times. While others advocated for freedom by "any means necessary," including violence, King used the power of words and acts of nonviolent resistance to achieve legal equality for African Americans.
For his role in inspiring the nation to act on civil rights, Time Magazine named him "Man of the Year" in 1963. King became the first African American recipient of this honor. For perspective, the winners for 1961 and 1962 were President Kennedy and Pope John XXIII, respectively.
The following year (1964), King became the youngest man, at age 35, to receive a Nobel Peace Prize. The award recognized King's role in bringing about more genuine progress toward racial equality for African Americans in the United States in 13 years than the previous 300 years had produced. King turned over his Nobel prize money (approx. $50,000) to further the civil rights movement. But his acceptance speech in Oslo, Norway is considered by many to be among the most powerful remarks ever delivered at the event.
Tragically, while standing in his motel balcony in Memphis, TN, where he was to protest a march with the striking garbage workers, he was assassinated by a sniper named James Earl Ray. Ray had been planning this assassination for months. Even though MLK has long passed, his spirit and influence will live on.
The Aftermath of MLK
The aftermath of his death was shocking and saddening, as many people of all color mourned his passing. In some ways, his death widened the separation between whites and blacks because many black people saw the assassination as a rejection of equality that he worked so hard to push into the world. His murder also radicalized many African-Americans, ultimately forming the Black Panther party in the 60’s and 70’s.
In 1983, the U.S. decided to honor MLK's life work with a national holiday. It is observed on the third Monday of January each year, which is around King's birthday.
Martin Luther King’s monument is located in Washington, DC in West Potomac Park at 1964 Independence Avenue, which refers to the year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law. The official dedication date of this memorial was August 28, 2011. This memorial is significant because it is the first one to ever honor a man of color in the National Mall and the fourth non-president. This monument represents King’s universal message -- that you can protest and fight for your rights to freedom, justice, and equality --- all without violence.
In 1996, Congress authorized King’s fraternity to build a memorial for him. They held a design competition, where entrants had to submit three 24” x 36” display boards to a panel of artists, historians, and architects. The final design had a quote from King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.
The actual sculpture of King’s face was a Chinese artist named Master Lei Yixin. He created a 3-foot scale before sculpting the 30-foot final version. He worked closely with King’s family to figure out the material and other miscellaneous aspects. With 80% done, the sculpture was disassembled and transported to DC where the remaining 20% was finished by Lei on site.
Observed on the third Monday of January, Martin Luther King’s first celebration was in 1986, now commonly known as Martin Luther King Day.