Thoughts on the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared December 7, 1941,  the day Pearl Harbor was bombed,  a “date which will live in infamy.”   For people of that generation- my parents were teenagers- that date sticks like glue in their minds.

Sadly, many other infamous days have followed, creating indelible memories, changing lives. Depending on our age, we remember where we were and what we were doing when we hear news that alters world history.

Sunday, August 28th,  the nation will dedicate the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial, which opened to the public this past week.   It’s the first monument honoring an African American on the Mall and is surrounded by memorials to presidents: Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and FDR.  

The dedication occurs on  the 48th anniversary of King’s famous “March on Washington” that brought about 250,000 people to the nation’s capitol for a non-violent protest demanding equal rights and access to jobs.

My parents were among those who marched.

Five years later, April 4th, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, one day after he addressed the striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee.

It’s a day I remember. I was 11; we had just returned from a Chinese restaurant in New Haven, CT, after celebrating my parents’ 14th anniversary.  We had turned on the television and heard the announcement.  I know I didn’t understand the magnitude of the man. I  remember that I’d only seen my parents that distraught once before,  when my two-month old sister died in her crib.

Years later, as a teacher, I designated the school days near the January holiday honoring King to honor the man, his achievements, and his dream.  I created assignments for my middle school students that  celebrated King as a writer, hoping to show students the power of words.

“A Letter from a Birmingham Jail” astounded students: he wrote in long hand? In jail? I selected a passage to demonstrate how repetition can electrify writing.

I wrote a readers theater script based on King’s “I’ve been to the Mountaintop,”  creating a chorus with King’s rhetoric.  These activities  helped students internalize the spirit of an icon they’d studied and empowered their own writing.

The new memorial sits on four acres.  Two stone pillars frame the 30-foot-tall sculpture of King, standing, holding papers, and scanning the panorama. 

Quotations from King’s speeches and writings are inscribed on a  crescent-shaped 450-long granite wall that encircles the monument.  The design was inspired by a line from King’s “I have a Dream” speech: “ With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.”

Celebrities will be there Sunday: Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Jamie Foxx, and Berry Gordy, and  President Obama, who will speak.  Thousands, including me, will watch it on television.

I hope to visit soon.

(Educators email me if you’d like my MLK lesson plans.)

(See, my post about the Freedom Riders. )

Note: Hurricane Irene has forced the dedication to be postponed.

This entry was posted in celebrations, Civil Rights History, Education, Family, holidays, teaching, Writing and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Thoughts on the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial

  1. Judy Washington says:

    I was just 5 years old and the first time i saw the footage from the March it was so inspiring. Now when I look back on the day, Martin speaking and Mahalia singing, it still touches my heart. A book of his speeches sit on my nightstand. Whenever, I need to be uplifted, I read them. This is truly an amazing endeavor. I only hate that the impending hurricane may cancel the event. I plan to visit as soon as possible. I was 10 years old when King was assassinated. That time lives on in my memory. I remember a line from his speech and i paraphrase it her: if you do not wake up each morning and you do not have a cause worth dying for then you do not have a life worth living. Thanks


    • Great comment, thanks, Judy. I find more in his words every time I read a speech or letter. Teaching it was an amazing experience. Too many kids just know the “dream” speech and don’t realize how much else he wrote.


  2. Barbara W. Klein says:

    I like your plans. Love Mom


  3. Leah says:

    Great post. Thank you for telling everyone about this historical occasion. I will watch it on the television as well.


  4. lisa lai ye says:

    Hi, Lisa, Amen !! I love the ways you design for teaching…I hope all schools have the ways of your thinking and the ways to coach our children.
    I just transferred Kevin’s sister to another school in Shanghai –called Dulwich College – established in England since 1600 – this is a great international school and one of the reasons I chose this school is because the similar philosophy they had like yours — example, last year , half of the school curriculum courses were designed around the Shanghai World Expo when the expo was going on in Shanghai for 6 months… — they keep the students current of the world events and learn from the events of the year….they also changed some of their social studies from English history/Victoria subjects to Chinese Emperor/dynasties subjects — let the students taking the advantages being in China to learn some Chinese histories… I would love to connect you with the school so one day, perhaps you could be a special speaker at Dulwich College in your next visit to China perhaps?? all the best


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