His iconic “I Have a Dream” speech during the 1963 March on Washington would help change America and the world.
Nearly a half-century later, the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. will gain new life, when a national memorial to honor the late Civil Rights leader is dedicated Aug. 28. The date coincides with the 48th anniversary of that groundbreaking march.
This Sunday, President Barack Obama is slated to give remarks and King relatives, civil rights leaders, dignitaries and celebrities are expected for the dedication ceremony on the National Mall.
The event is open to the public, but visitors can view the memorial now that it has officially opened in Washington, D.C.
“The city is preparing to welcome thousands of celebrants from across the country and around the world with whom Dr. King’s message of peace resonates,” says Elliott Ferguson, President and CEO of Destination DC, the city’s tourism arm. “We’re seeing a particularly strong interest from visitors coming from the Southeast.”
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial is the first on the National Mall to pay tribute to an African-American. It will be situated adjacent to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, and in a direct line between the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials.
Located on the Tidal Basin, the King memorial will be surrounded by dozens of the famed Japanese Cherry Blossom trees and newly planted crape myrtles.
Described by planners as an “engaging landscape” the memorial features natural elements and water, all meant to convey four themes that were fundamental to King’s legacy: democracy, justice, hope and love. The centerpiece — the “Stone of Hope” — features a 30-foot likeness of King. A 450-foot crescent-shaped granite wall is inscribed with King’s sermons and public remarks, although not the iconic “I Have a Dream,” speech.
Just as freedom seekers traveled to the original March on Washington by bus, car, train, plane and on foot, officials are expecting an influx of visitors from around the country.
“We expect the memorial to enjoy high attendance in the weeks immediately following the opening weekend similar to the World War II monument which opened in 2004,” says Ferguson.
In the days leading up to the dedication, a bevy of festivities such as concerts, an interfaith prayer service, and an expo with vendors at the D.C. Convention Center are planned. Many activities are free.
“The dedication has been long-awaited,” adds Harry E. Johnson Sr., president and CEO of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation, Inc. in Washington. “People from around the world are coming to experience this tremendous, historic moment. We are excited to welcome them all.”
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial will be dedicated Aug. 28 at 11 a.m. on the National Mall in Washington, but the memorial officially opens to the public on Monday. Hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Monday and 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Because of security preparations for the dedication, the memorial is closed to the public on Friday and Saturday.
The memorial is located at the intersection of West Basin Drive SW and Independence Avenue SW and admission is free. D.C. officials are encouraging visitors to use the Metro, which is offering $9 commemorative passes.
D.C. officials held a public lottery for tickets to the official dedication ceremony. Due to overwhelming demand, there are now alternative outlets for tickets that grant public access to the official viewing area. However, the public is welcome to stake a spot elsewhere on the National Mall, where video screens will be set up. Aretha Franklin, Jennifer Hudson and Stevie Wonder are expected to perform at the dedication. A free concert will follow the ceremony.
A gospel concert at the Kennedy Center on Friday, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., is free, as is a prayer service at the National Cathedral on Saturday. Various other events during the weeklong celebration require tickets. Go to dedicatethedream.org.
Destination DC, the city’s tourism arm, is offering hotel room plus dedication ticket packages, offering one- or two-night stays at more than a dozen participating Washington hotels.