My relationship with Dr. King was decades old, so I felt compelled to see the sculpture honoring him as soon as I could. Getting to the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial was a struggle as many did not seem to know the location of the monument; I finally got directions from a Danish teacher on a visit to the U.S. with her students.
At last, I arrived. I immediately began reading the quotations, deciding early that I had to photograph each. Words have always been important to me because I think we can solve any problem if we talk about it. But we have to agree on definitions and listen to each other. Planning our response as the other person speaks usually does not lead to resolving a problem.
In each of Dr. King’s quotations I saw the opposition, imagined what they would say or think; I could hear Dr. King making his points. I could also hear the silence of the many who ignored what he had to say or, worse, would pay lip service to his words. I deliberately read all of the words before I gazed at the front of the sculpture.
“Out of a mountain of desperation comes a stone of hope,” is on the left side of the sculpture. This stone with the likeness of Dr. King seems to have been shoved, carved from between the two boulders behind it. Interestingly, Stone Mountain, near Dr. King’s home, is not mentioned, but “stone” and “mountain” are on the side of the sculpture. The first time I heard of Stone Mountain was when he referred to it in I Have a Dream.
On the other side is the paraphrased “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.” (No, the words should not have been paraphrased.)
I recalled when everyone was invited to attend the March on Washington; I was set to go alone. Never had it occurred to me that my mother would say I could not go, but she did. Hurt and disappointed, but never thinking of disobeying my mother, I sat on the floor in the front room listening to Dr. King. What I remember most was the way he repeated, “I have a dream” and how I had never seen any of those places where “Justice runs’ down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.” I wanted him to know we wanted justice in my town too. Many people in many places wanted that justice, peace and righteousness.
As I looked at the words engraved on the granite, remembering some and being introduced to others, my mind ignored order; it darted from one King incident or event to another.
When I began teaching in 1970, very little African-American literature was in our textbooks, but Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail was in just about every Composition 101 book as an example of argumentation or persuasion. For more than thirty years, I used it, but went a step farther: I made copies of the letter the eight Birmingham clergymen had written (and published in the newspaper). They called the demonstrations “unwise and untimely.” Students were required to read what provoked Dr. King before reading his response. I always said he might not have had the time to write such a marvelous reply had he not been in jail. Birmingham authorities did not let Dr. King have newspapers and stationery; friends had to smuggle items to him. They smuggled out his reply.
Were logic the essence of the leaders of our government, slavery and countless other acts of unfairness would never have existed. People often ask, demand that others wait for what they themselves already have. Perhaps it was from this letter that I learned logic often is not part of the equation of our arguments though a true argument rests on a proposition supported by logic; when we disagree we usually want power, and people never willingly give up power; if they give anything, it is to prevent more power from being taken from them.
As much as I regret those words were not selected, I am well pleased with the selected quotations. The “good words” could not all be included. Finally, I looked at the sculpture. Good job! Excellent job! “Awesome” is appropriate. I know there are those who want black stone or at least stone less white, and those who think the image does not look enough like Dr. King and those who want his words verbatim. But overall, I am delighted. Dr. King often had that pose. He often carried papers in his hand. What pleases me most is the presence of a sculpture honoring a great, well-known African-American/black/Negro/colored person on The Mall. And this sculpture was installed during the tenure of the first African-American president. No sculpture has ever made me feel such pride.
~Georgia S. McDade