Martin Luther King Memorial Opens

Originally published on August 22, 2011 6:54 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

NPR's Sam Sanders joined tourists and locals as they visited the monument and its four-acre site.

SAM SANDERS: Before the memorial opened to the public, Harry E. Johnson, Sr., president of the King Memorial Project Foundation, spoke to journalists.

HARRY E: The memorial to Dr. King is the first on the National Mall to celebrate a man of color, hope and peace. And you can see, this location is powerful. I've said it time and time again. Location, location, location.

SANDERS: The memorial has had its share of controversy. Many have criticized the choice of sculptor, Master Lei Yixin. He, like the three large stones comprising most of the memorial, is Chinese. But Johnson defended the choice of the stones and of the artist.

SIEGEL: We chose him because of what Dr. King himself said and that is, you should not judge a person by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character. We got the best man for the job to build it. And I hope you agree with me, he did a marvelous job.

SANDERS: The sense of history was strong on the site. Johnson himself is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, the same fraternity Dr. King belonged to. And Deryl McKissack, a lead member of the Design-Build Team, felt a special bond to the project because of her family history.

DERYL MCKISSACK: So it's my great, great grandfather. He was a slave builder.

SANDERS: Visitors lined up about a block behind the memorial. In front of the memorial, people took pictures and peered through a fence. Leslie Cooper was visiting from California, looking through fence slats at the statue.

LESLIE COOPER: I wasn't sure what to expect, but I'm glad that they made it huge and very breathtaking and amazing. It's perfect.

SANDERS: Visitors said that some of Dr. King's dream is still unrealized, especially in difficult economic times. Tyrus Brown of New York didn't see joy in King's face.

TYRUS BROWN: He looks disappointed, which I think is probably because of what's happening today. You know, there's so much unemployment now. There's poverty. There's, you know, black-on-black homicides. And his expression on the statue looks - it looks like he's disappointed.

SANDERS: Kwanzaa Nivens of Washington, D.C. was visibly shaken.

KWANZAA NIVENS: This is unbelievable. Oh, God. If he could just see today, you know, all that fighting was not in vain, you know. It wasn't in vain, Dr. King.

SANDERS: Sam Sanders, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.