On the August day that the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial opened to the public, the line stretched down Independence Avenue Southwest.
And on that bright and sunny day, Wade Johnson sat in the shade of the memorial’s trees next to the Tidal Basin.
The native Washingtonian came of age during the civil rights movement. He remembers the riots that tore D.C. apart after King was assassinated in 1968.
“When you know the history of this city, you know that this is a dream come true,” the 61-year-old said. “I didn’t believe it would happen. But it did.”
The memorial, which will be dedicated during a Sunday ceremony in West Potomac Park, is several years in the making. Congress passed and President Bill Clinton signed legislation in 1996 to establish a King memorial in Washington. It would take another decade of legislation, designs and fundraising before ground was broken on the project on Nov. 13, 2006.
“I imagine us walking down to this Tidal Basin, between one memorial dedicated to the man who helped give birth to a nation and another dedicated to the man who preserved it,” then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) said at the groundbreaking, referring to himself and his daughters. “I picture us walking beneath the shadows cast by the ‘mountain of despair’ and gazing up at the ‘stone of hope’ and reading the quotes on the wall together as the water falls like rain.”
Now president five years later, Obama will speak of the memorial again at Sunday’s dedication ceremony. The event was originally scheduled for the end of August on the anniversary of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, but Hurricane Irene forced planners to reschedule.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, members of the King family and civil rights leaders are also scheduled to speak.
Since its unveiling, the memorial has been criticized for its design and its paraphrasing of King’s quotes.
Still, the memorial is the first monument on the National Mall to represent an African-American and a non-president. And the area will continue to grow with the groundbreaking of the National Museum of African American History and Culture scheduled for next year.
But tucked around the District are other sites dedicated to African-American history. From the Emancipation Memorial in Lincoln Park, which depicts President Abraham Lincoln with a freed slave, to a bust of abolitionist Sojourner Truth in the Capitol Visitor Center, many sites pay tribute to the past with their depictions and preservations. Here are a few sites off the Mall where one can dig into some history.
National Historic Site