In his 39 years, the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. lived a heroic life. Educated as a Baptist preacher and blessed with a gift for oratory, King used nonviolent means, like boycotts and peaceful marches, to work to end segregation and promote civil rights.
King’s inspiring speeches and vision moved others to join him. In the course of the 14 years in which he worked, King helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, wrote and delivered some 2,500 speeches, organized massive protests, planned drives to register black voters, won the Nobel Peace Prize, and led a March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, that helped persuade Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Throughout this time, King endured arrests, beatings and threats, until the evening of April 4, 1968, when he was assassinated in Memphis.
King’s legacy lives on in our integrated society, where civil rights protection remains a basic tenet. The country honors the memory of the slain civil rights leader with a holiday marking his birthday on the third Monday in January, close to the actual date, Jan. 15.
Tributes in Washington include the Martin Luther King Jr Library, a statue of King in the Capitol Rotunda, and a step etched to mark where King stood at the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963, when he delivered his I Have a Dream Speech to the crowd of 200,000 who had gathered there. But until Oct. 16, 2011 (postponed from original date, Aug. 28, 2011, due to a hurricane), the capital did not have a national memorial honoring King.
This stone memorial sits on the lip of the Tidal Basin between the Lincoln and the Jefferson memorials. A 30-foot-tall statue of a resolute King stands with arms folded, appearing as if he is emerging from an enormous stone (the “Stone of Hope”), having succeeded in pushing through an other enormous boulder, now parted, the “Mountains of Despair.” Curving walls are inscripted with lines from his magnificent speeches and sermons.
Metro: Smithsonian on the Silver, Blue and Orange Lines. 12th St. and Independence Ave. exit.