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Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial

View of memorial from the virtual tour.

Nearly 50 years after Martin Luther King Jr. made history with his “I have a dream” speech from the Lincoln Memorial, he has been immortalized just a few hundred yards away with his own memorial on the National Mall. When the memorial is officially dedicated this Saturday, it will be the first major memorial on the National Mall honoring an individual other than a president.  In addition, King’s presence near the Mall’s memorials to soldiers and veterans is especially striking because of his lifelong dedication to peaceful, non-violent activism. His lesson of tolerance, peace, and love for all people has stood the test of time and will continue to inspire as people continue to teach what MLK preached.

The memorial is located near the Tidal Basin, between the Lincoln Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial. The 30-foot tall statue of Dr. King is surrounded by walls inscribed with some of his most famous words. You can take a virtual tour of the new monument here.

Here in Washington DC, the lead-up to the unveiling of the memorial was filled with local programs and discussions about King and his legacy both nationally and in the local DC community. The District’s Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, for example, shared a list of books for all age groups that highlight the ideals of MLK.

While the National Mall may be a far trip for most Americans, the King memorial belongs to the entire country. In spite of the distance, many are still making the trek to Washington to honor MLK and to be reminded of how far our nation has come and how far we still have to go. A group of students from Mansfield, Ohio and another from Savannah, Ga. will make their way to DC for the weekend to attend the opening ceremony on Sunday.

Even for those who can’t make it to the National Mall, there’s probably a commemoration of Martin Luther King in your own backyard. According to East Carolina University geographer Derek Alderman, more than 730 streets are named after Dr. King in cities and towns across 39 states. A few years ago, PM told the story of two cities where managers faced a political firestorm in the debate over renaming streets after Martin Luther King:

Local managers are also frequently confronted with issues relating to local monuments and memorials on a much smaller scale than those in Washington. Several Knowledge Network questions tackled the topic, and many responders have shared their own policies on these local landmarks.

  • Standards for Memorials and Monuments: In response to a question on standards for memorials on city property, Knowledge Network users shared practices from Sedona, Ariz., Virginia Beach, Va., Palm Beach County, Fla., and several towns in Connecticut that address memorial donations, naming, and more.
  • Donation / Memorial Policy: This question deals with a debate over allowing a memorial plaque to an individual to be placed on a bronze statue paid for mostly by city funds. A policy from Fayetteville, Ark. gives one example of how to resolve such issues.
  • Memorials to Homicide Victims: A discussion on using public property for memorials to homicide victims and traffic fatalities.