*The site of the new 120-million-dollar memorial honoring slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was toured on Thursday by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Representative Eleanor Holmes-Norton and Washington Mayor Vincent Gray.
The trio were given an update on how construction was progressing on the site, which has been dogged by delays.
Broken pieces of lumber lay piled near the polished stone wall on which 15 of King’s quotes will be inscribed. The centerpiece 28-foot statue of King was in place, gazing across the waters of the Tidal Basin to the memorial to president Thomas Jefferson, but obscured from photographers’ lenses by scaffolding and mesh webbing.
“They want to ‘keep’ it until the official inauguration of the site on August 28th,” said an official connected to the memorial, asking not to be named.
Thousands of people are expected to turn out for the inauguration of the memorial, which will fall on the 47th anniversary of the day King gave his renowned “I have a dream” speech on the National Mall in Washington.
Exactly three years before on August 28, 2008, Barack Obama was formally set on the path to the White House, when he won the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.
The King memorial had been set to open in early 2009 but was delayed by everything from bickering over security at the site to the economic meltdown in Greece, which forced the EU shipping nation to stall on a pledge to transport the statue free of charge from China to the US capital.
The 159 pieces of the statue eventually arrived in August last year and have been put together on the memorial site.
The fact that the statue was carved out of white granite by Chinese sculptor Lei Yixin also sparked controversy, with US masons complaining that there were “plenty of unemployed” in their ranks who would have liked to work on the statue.
But on Thursday, the teething pains had been forgotten as the visiting officials and Harry Johnson, head of the foundation tasked with building the memorial, looked to what the site would represent when it finally opens.
When that day comes, visitors will enter the memorial site through a gap between two huge white stones.
The stone taken out of the mound of stone to make the gap is set from the entry portal, and on the side of that stone facing the Tidal Basin is the towering statue of a gigantic figure in US history, Martin Luther King Jr.
Johnson called the entry portal the “mountain of despair” and the stone with King’s likeness carved into it the “stone of hope,” both references to the civil rights leader’s saying: “With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.”
King championed nonviolence and direct action as methods to achieve social change, leading the Montgomery bus boycott in the 1950s in segregated Alabama and mass protests in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 that led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act a year later.
King was shot dead in Memphis, Tennessee in April 1968. The 1964 Nobel peace prize winner was just 39 years old.