King Memorial long overdue

When it gets down to it, few people have had a greater or more lasting influence on America than the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

King, felled by an assassin’s bullet in 1968, left an indelible mark on his nation, using unique strategy and tenacity to eat at the conscience of Americans on racial equality and fairness.

A monument to this great leader has finally come into being at the National Mall, positioned between memorials to two of America’s greatest presidents — Thomas Jefferson, who helped found the United States, and Abraham Lincoln, who held the country together through a bitter Civil War.

The design of the sculpture captures a stoic image, one he exhibited publicly, of King, his brow furrowed, emerging from a section of a stone mountain that appears to have been carved from two sides of a mountain behind it. The idea behind the design, it has been reported, is to depict the Civil Rights icon breaking a pathway of hope through a mountain of despair.

As overdue as the monument is — the only monument on the National Mall dedicated to the life and work of an African American — the dedication planned for Sunday, one that was expected to bring a quarter-million people to Washington, D.C., had to be postponed.

After the Washington area and much of the East Coast got an unexpected shaking from a rare 5.8 magnitude earthquake, the threat of Hurricane Irene bearing down on the East Coast forced organizers to delay the dedication ceremony. Washington Mayor Vincent Gray on Friday declared a state of emergency for the nation’s capital ahead of Irene, and power company officials on Friday warned residents and businesses to expect power outages when the storm comes through.

Still, King’s son, Martin Luther King III, accepted the memorial to his father Friday as members of Alpha Phi Alpha, the fraternity MLK was a member of, conducted their own planned dedication ceremony. The fraternity was the driving force behind the monument, working to get it approved and to raise the $120 million that it cost to create it.

Sunday had been chosen for the grand dedication of the MLK Memorial because it marks the 48th anniversary of King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech that was delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Still, the ceremony will come in September or October. And as Harry Johnson, the president of the foundation that built the memorial, told The Associated Press after the decision was made to delay the dedication: “The memorial is going to be there forever.”

Indeed, it will endure and inspire, just as the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. has.