It took decades of lobbying, fundraising, and battles over everything from the sculptor to the choice of stone—but the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial is finally opening on the National Mall this weekend. Sort of.
Thanks to Hurricane Irene, the weekend opening dedication ceremony will be pushed to a later date, but visitors to the Mall have been able to see the memorial since Monday, and should still be able to see it on Saturday.
“I’m disappointed and hurt, really,” memorial foundation president, Harry E. Johnson, Sr. told The Washington Post. “But the memorial is going to be there forever.”
The King memorial marks the first time an African American has been honored with a space on the Mall, and only the fourth time that a non-president has. (The others are George Mason, John Ericsson, and John Paul Jones.)
The memorial is a result of lobbying by Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., of which King was a member. After his death, members of the black fraternity proposed a memorial on the Mall, and it gained traction after the national holiday was instated by Congress. In 1996, President Bill Clinton approved the request.
The subsequent fundraising, wrangling over the exact location, a kerfuffle over Chinese sculptor Lei Yixin and Chinese (instead of American) granite finally led to the project breaking ground in 2006.
Other organizations are taking advantage of the historic moment. The labor group AFL-CIO is hosting a symposium today with the King Center on King’s legacy and the labor movement. “One of the last acts of my father’s life was advocating for the sanitation workers in Memphis,” Martin Luther King III said in a statement. “He firmly believed that workers’ rights were an essential element of civil rights.”