The King memorial near the Tidal Basin in Washington is scheduled to have its official dedication this week on October 16. The original dedication in August was postponed because Washington was in the middle of a hurricane.
There seems to be a lot of grousing–at least in Washington–about the memorial. The statue of King is too big. King has a scowl on his face. The whole thing is “over the top.” The monument was not even designed by an American, for heavens sake. And of course “the drum major for justice” controversy continues with the Washington Post calling for another delay until that phrase can be replaced by a phrase that gets it right. Nothing new for Washington where controversy seems to be our life blood.
As for me what is really important is the fact that a major memorial honoring Dr. King has been completed and is now part of our national heritage. It is the only major memorial in Washington for a person who was not a president. That fact alone is extraordinary and shows that, despite the fact that as a nation we are still dealing with race issues and still have a long way to go, we have come a long way.
King was inspiring to me growing up more than any other leader of the civil rights movement. Along with most of my fellow seminarians at Union, I felt like my heart had been pierced when I heard he had been killed. Certainly, he will go down as one of the greatest orators of all time. But he was much more than an inspiring orator. He was smart, tough and never took his eye off the ball. His dedication not only to the cause of civil rights but also to non-violence in achieving equality and justice determined the course of the civil rights movement. He deserves this honor and has earned his place in history as one of America’s greatest people.
Of course, not everyone felt that way about him back in the 1960s. Few white Southerners did; and to our surprise when we arrived in southwest Georgia in 1966, a lot of SNCC workers did not care too much for him either. They accused him of picking the low hanging fruit and taking most of the glory when the real action was on the ground where SNCC workers were risking their lives daily. That seems to be the way it is in a revolution. There are different groups with different agendas, and being nice is not the idea. Changing the world is not a picnic.
But those times have now passed and my guess is that most of civil rights workers we worked with who had doubts then have long since mellowed and that they–like so many of us– will be feeling a sense of pride and satisfaction that our nation is honoring this great man.