This Monday, January 16th, federal workers and many private sector employees will have the day off work, in honor of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day falls on the third Monday of January and has been a federal holiday since 1986. This year marks the holiday’s first observance since construction finished on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, meaning that this year’s celebrations in Washington, D.C. takes on more significance. And with the long weekend, there’s no reason not to participate and honor one of the most important people of the 20th century.
There is no better place to start than the new memorial, which is located on the West end of the Tidal Basin, in West Potomac Park. The four-acre site lies between the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and the World War II Memorial and is most easily reached by the Smithsonian exit of Metro’s Orange and Blue Lines.
The Memorial took over 15 years to actualize, starting when members of King’s former fraternity received permission to raise funds for a dedication on the Mall. The project itself, once ground was broken, took just 20 months to complete, and opened to the public on August 22nd, 2011.
Visitors to the Memorial enter off West Tidal Basin Drive, through a massive granite wall, symbolizing a line from King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. The 30-foot high granite Mountain of Despair’s walls are imposing, and guests must pass through a small space in them to enter the memorial. The part of wall that has been removed from the Mountain of Despair to create the opening is placed 20-feet beyond it and named the Stone of Hope. Carved into the Stone of Hope is the Memorial’s centerpiece, a 30-foot tall statue of King, emerging out of the rock to symbolize both progress and strength. King’s visage looks out at the Tidal Basin, intending for him to keep an eye on all of D.C.
Alongside the Mountain of Despair are two granite inscription walls, which have carved on them some of King’s most famous quotations, including “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
The memorial’s large size intends to showcase the wide-ranging impact King had on the American social landscape, and it achieves its intended goal. While it’s most certainly worth seeing, especially if you have the day off, it’s not the only way that one can honor one of the more important holidays in American history.
For those looking for a way to further their education about King, as well as the Civil Rights movement in general, the National Museum of American History has the perfect events. All throughout the extended weekend the museum is offering tributes and exhibits to King.
Four times a day, at 11:00am, 1:00p.m., 2:30p.m., and 4:00p.m., the museum holds To the Mountaintop — The Words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a tribute to the speeches and words of King. Actor Xavier Carnegie will perform dramatic readings of King’s most famous and stirring speeches. The speeches will be supplemented with photos and audio recordings, intended to recreate the experience of hearing King himself speak. For many that weren’t around during the Civil Rights movement, this is a unique opportunity to see the passion and energy that was present at the time of King’s life.
Another moving exhibit that helps people understand the tumultuous 1960s is one of the museum’s interactive exhibits, Historic Theater: Join the Student Sit-Ins at the Greensboro Lunch. At the National Museum of American History is the original lunch counter where, in 1960, four African-American students sat down at a whites-only counter and asked to be served. When they were denied, the group refused to leave, and their actions led to one of the first and biggest sit-ins of the early Civil Rights movement. The Historic Theater presentation will offer training sessions identical to ones received by students before they embarked on these dangerous sit-ins. Readings will be done from actual manuals of the time and are intended to show people today just what risks these students embarked on. This course is offered on Saturday, the 14th, four times, at 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., 3:00 p.m., 4:30 p.m.
On this federal holiday, if you have an extra day off work, devote some time to better learning about one of America’s most dramatic periods in its history.
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