Memories at King Memorial Bring History Face to Face with Courage

ATLANTA-“I Have a Dream.”

What does a speech, song, or building a granite sculpture to honor a civil rights leader have to do with your purpose and call? Some leaders say it is about accepting and holding the cup of life with “hope.”

Can a two decade’s old struggle to build a memorial in honor of an African American trailblazer dedicated to a life of service begin new reflections for solutions in a few days on the current process of achieving peace and revitalizing hope utilizing intergenerational learning for change in this post-modern era?

Unless Hurricane Irene uses its force to interrupt, the five day celebration ending with a D-Day or Dedication show beginning at 10 a.m. Sunday in honor of one of the world’s top civil rights leaders will go on. Historian and author Maya Angelou, formerly the northern coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in the 1960’s co-founded by King said, “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”

The stage is being set. One of Atlanta’s native sons is being honored, a “dream” celebration worth traveling shoes anxiety. Busloads, car pools and airplane flights will bring Atlantans and includes more than 250,000 people from around the world to an event; an opportunity to pay tribute to a tireless crusader against social injustice. Why is this not a fictive plot but a real portrayal with a sense of urgency?

The historical events at the dedication display yesterday’s fears of King’s era and some of today’s struggles. Henri J.M. Nouwen, author of Can You Drink the Cup? said, “The cup of life is the cup of joy as much as it is the cup of sorrow. It is the cup in which sorrows and joys, sadness and gladness, mourning and dancing are never separated. If joys could not be where sorrows are, the cup of life would never be drinkable.”

Even the nation’s first African American president is a part of the memorial festivities and is scheduled to speak Sunday at the dedication. He believes the dream of hope is essential and the emphasis in his State of the Union address last year rings true for the King dedication festivities this year.

A skilled orator, President Barack Obama utilizes the power of words to his varied audiences. “What the American people hope – what they deserve – is for all of us, Democrats and Republicans, to work through our differences; to overcome the numbing weight of our politics. For while the people who sent us here have different backgrounds, different stories, different beliefs, the anxieties they face are the same. The aspirations they hold are shared: a job that pays the bills; a chance to get ahead; most of all, the ability to give their children a better life.”

Dr. R. L. White, pastor of Mt. Ephraim Baptist Church and President of the Atlanta NAACP said, “The activities planned with the dedication will be emotional in that those who were alive during the struggles (because) Dr. King led so well, feel a sense of kinship in that he was a part of us and we were a part of him, so then, the statue is not just him but we are there also. The young can look at this whole story as a testimony that they too can affect the social climate in our country.” The Atlanta NAACP is planning a two day bus trip to the dedication.

Ask visitors to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. sculpture memorial in Washington, why the event is significant. The memorial dedication is slated for Aug. 28 and begins with a musical tribute featuring Aretha Franklin, who formerly accompanied King on occasion, and other top recording artists despite the recent earthquake which damaged parts of the East Coast including the nation’s capital.

Inspired by King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Chinese sculptor Lei Yixin built a 28-foot-tall, 450-foot-long, $120 million memorial raised primarily with momentum as a project originating initially with the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, which has more than 10 quotations from the noted civil rights leader’s speeches. (King was a member of the fraternity). King’s National Mall memorial is a towering figure; making a bold statement. Presidents Jefferson and Lincoln’s statutes are shorter, 19 feet tall. Less than five non-Presidents have a national memorial near or on the National Mall. Union protestors were at the site recently protesting their lack of involvement with building the memorial project.

The memorial site is located on four acres on the Tidal Basin next to another President’s memorial (Roosevelt) highlighting a visual portrayal of top leadership in this country. The design builders were the African American company, McKissack & McKissack.

The famous “I Have a Dream” speech was one of King’s most noted speeches on his idealism of hope; made in 1963 as part of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and text from the speech is ingrained in the memorial. Decades later in the same city, on the same date Aug. 28, with some of the same battle-aged leaders, mature and graying but sturdy and not shaken, another call for action will be issued – for freedom against poverty and a call for jobs, because supporters say the lack of can breed other social problems including disease and hunger. The statute is at 1964 Independence Ave. reminiscent of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was propelled by the 1963 speech made by King.

Lashonda Lockett, an Atlanta private middle school teacher believes the event can leave a lasting impression for youth as a tourist attraction.

“It is something for the kids to go and see when they are in Washington, D.C. and visiting the White House,” Lockett said.

Aaron Turner, 24, said, “I believe that is great that they are putting up a memorial because it’s been a long time coming, but also, they cannot forget about other Black pioneers. I can name a lot of them.”

White said, “I grew up in Macon, Georgia and was profoundly affected by the social inequities of the day. I experienced the going to back doors to be served in restaurants, white only water fountains, and a cross being burned on my father’s lawn by the KKK and experienced the frustrations that came along with social inequalities. When Dr. King made his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, I had just moved to Washington D.C. and was deeply moved by his speech.”

Atlanta resident and civil rights activist Ozell Sutton, an Arkansas native, gave a speech Sunday in honor of King at his historic church, Friendship Baptist Church in Atlanta. “Yes, I was where Martin was a lot of times…When Martin was in Birmingham, I was there.” Sutton explained that he was in Room 308 and King was in Room 306 on the day of King’s assassination at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis in 1968. “In Memphis, when Martin was assassinated, I was there.”

Sutton said that when Martin asked for the song “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” to be sung, “Somebody came out of the bushes and shot Martin.”

“Martin was one of the greatest servants of the Lord,” he added. Sutton was the former National President of the oldest African American fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha and an initial crusader of the memorial dedication; the group included King’s late wife, Coretta Scott King and worked hard to get the support of Congress with help from President Bill Clinton, former governor of Arkansas to build the monument at the National Mall. Harry E. Johnson Sr. is the president and CEO of the Martin Luther King National Memorial Foundation and former National President of the Alpha fraternity.

The call for more action against racial inequities continues. In a previous speech, Children’s Defense Fund President Marian Wright Edelman said, “A lot of people are waiting for Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi to come back-but they are gone. We are it. It is up to us. It is up to you.”

Della Spearman is a seminarian and Master Gardener.

People also view

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *