16 October 2001: Dedication of MLK Memorial
The weather in Washington, DC, could not have been more opposite to the original day for which the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial had been planned. On August 28, recovering from a mid-level earthquake, the District was hit by Hurricane Irene.
MLK's daughter, Rev. Christine Lang Farris, explained the postponement. August 28 was the date on which MLK had delivered his immortal "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1964. To have held the dedication on that day would mean that we aspired no farther than it. To hold it nearly two months later signified the progress we anticipated, for what has been accomplished since then may be seen in some ways as retrogression--contentment with short-term changes and subtle forms of Jim Crow creeping back into the system, most evident in the strict/stricter voter i.d. laws now infecting more and more states.
The dedication was also a tribute to the heroism of those who marched and toiled with MLK in the late 1950s and 1960s, some of whom were present, both named and anonymous, and to all of us who work toward the goals of the dream--equality in every aspect of life, which the one percent must realize is ultimately of benefit to all.
Right now, remarked Ambassador Andrew Young at a later event, that diseased, greedy fraction of the population is "like a drunk driving a Ferrari on the Autobahn."
The proceedings began at 8 a.m. this morning for the thousands who had arrived even earlier with an hour of music of various forms, including two different Gospel choirs, one from MLK's Ebenezer Baptist Chuch in Atlanta. The speeches began at 9, from a spectrum of civil rights heroes, after it was noted that Washingtonians haven't gotten beyond the revolutionary goal of taxation with representation. There was yet another march on this issue recently--we don't give up easily.
Among the first to speak was a close associate of MLK, Julian Bond, who said that the true message of anyone is how long it survives after the person's life. It seems that the only place in the world where MLK's message doesn't resonate is Wall Street.
Said Rev. Farris, the next speaker, she remembered the day her baby brother was born and watched him ascend from that time (1929). Eighty-two years ago, who would have envisioned an African American president?
"Great dreams can come true."
Of all presidents, it was Ronald Reagan who declared January 15, MLK's birthday, or the Monday closest to it, as a holiday. (The reverend did not even mention that name.)
She lauded the first black fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, to which her brother belonged, for financing the thirty-foot granite colossus, as tall as her brother was short--his height of five feet, seven inches, was diminishing to him, she said, but certainly did not prevent his astounding ministry. [This latter observation actually came later from Andrew Young.]
Farris briefly highlighted other milestones in MLK's life, including the Nobel prize he received in 1964, and then expressed the wish that "today mark another step of the dream."
Rev. King's daughter, Rev. Bernice King, reminded her audience of the credit due to her mother, Coretta Scott King, who raised their four children as a wife and then a widow, imbuing them with their father's teachings and values and then led efforts to establish MLK Day as a national holiday.
She reminded us of the hatred of King that existed the year in which he died, 1968, in contrast with his official status as the only memorialized "father" on the mall who was neither president, nor any level of political official, but a minister and founder of a new age of U.S. history and the world.
We must move from racial justice to economic justice, she said, going beyond the dream to address the hideous imbalance of society in our age as more and more people join the ranks of poverty.
We must shift from our orientation toward gaining things to concentrate on people, continued the reverend, quoting her father; our survival depends on our ability to remain alert, to struggle and to pray to avoid fatigue, so that we can arrive at that height MLK famously labeled with lines from a hymn: "Free at last, free at last; thank God that we are free at last," in the "I Have a Dream" speech.