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“Creating a permanent tribute to the globally revered icon, one that captures his vision of freedom, opportunity and justice for all Americans, was a tall order, to say the least,” said officials of the Memorial Foundation, commissioners of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall.

“Despite critics who have assailed its decisions along the way — from the artist of the sculpture to the design and the granite used — the team behind the project feels certain that it got it right…”

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial is America’s 395th unit in the National Park Service. It opened to the public on August 22, 2011, after more than two decades of planning, fund-raising and construction. Since then, more than (number) people have visited, paying their respects to one of the most iconic civil rights leaders in America’s history.

King’s is not the first memorial to an African American in Washington, D.C., but it is the first of an African American honored with a memorial on or near the National Mall and only the fourth non-president to be memorialized there.

“Since the Foundation’s beginning in 2002, I have had the pleasure of working with a myriad of people from all walks of life around the world to make the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial a reality,” said Memorial Foundation President Harry E. Johnson, Sr. via an open letter on the organization’s website.

“The opening of the Memorial in 2011 was a proud event for us all.”

“Since that proud day, millions of visitors to the Memorial have experienced the history of Dr. King’s legacy and been inspired by his lifelong example.”

The Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity initially proposed the memorial since King had been a member of the organization since 1952. He remained involved with the fraternity after the completion of his studies at Boston University and delivered the keynote speech at the fraternity’s 50th anniversary banquet in 1956. APA began its efforts in 1968, after King’s assassination, gaining momentum in 1986, after King’s birthday was designated a national holiday.

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(Photo by Brandon I. Brooks)

By 1996, APA was given permission to establish the memorial on the Department of Interior lands in the District of Columbia. They were given  until November 2003 to raise $100 million and break ground. In 1998, Congress authorized the fraternity to establish a foundation—the Washington, D.C. Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation—to manage the memorial’s fundraising and design, and approved the building of the memorial on the National Mall. In 1999, the United States Commission of Fine Arts (CFA) and the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) approved the site location for the memorial.

Those visiting will be privy to the memorial will experience the sight of a significant centerpiece, which is a 30-foot statue of Dr. King, featuring his likeness carved into the Stone of Hope, emerging  from two large boulders, known as the Mountain of Despair, two references to Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Text from this speech is cut  into the rock of the Stone: “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.

According to the Washington DC tourism website, “Every visitor enters through the Mountain of Despair and tours the memorial as if moving through the struggle that Dr. King faced during his life. Visitors end in the open freedom of the plaza. The solitary Stone of Hope stands proudly, depicting the civil rights leader gazing over the Tidal Basin toward the horizon, forever encouraging all citizens to strive for justice and equality.

“Surrounding the statue of Dr. King is a 450-foot long Inscription Wall, which features 14 quotes from King’s speeches, sermons and writings. Inscriptions were chosen by a special “Council of Historians,” which included Maya Angelou and Henry Louis Gates. Quotes were chosen with Dr. King’s four main principles in mind: justice, democracy, hope and love…”