The site was set to open without fanfare around 11 a.m. to kick off a week of celebrations ahead of Sunday’s official dedication. About 20 people had lined up outside the site by late morning on what was a warm and sunny day.
Pamela M. Cross, 53, a cybersecurity professional from Washington, said she usually passes by the memorial on her morning walk around the National Mall and was excited to be able to see it up close.
Cross said her father, a postal worker, attended the march on Washington in 1963. She said King’s message continues to resonate.
“The way the country is right now, it’s good to remember his principles,” Cross said. “We are in need of jobs, we’re in need of equality, we’re in need of an economic vision that’s inclusive.”
The memorial sits on the National Mall near the Tidal Basin, between memorials honoring Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson. It includes a 30-foot-tall sculpture of King and a 450-foot-long granite wall inscribed with 14 quotations from the civil rights leader.
The sheer size of the sculpture of King sets it apart from nearby statues of Jefferson and Lincoln, which are both about 20 feet tall, though inside larger monuments.
A panel of scholars chose the engraved quotations from speeches by King in Atlanta, New York, Washington, Los Angeles and Montgomery, Ala., as well as from King’s books and his letter from a Birmingham, Ala., jail.
One of the stone engravings reads: “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
The sculptor, Lei Yixin, said he wanted the memorial to be a visual representation of the ideals King spoke of in his “I Have a Dream” speech.
“His dream is very universal. It’s a dream of equality,” Lei said through his son, who translated from Mandarin. “He went to jail. He had been beaten, and he sacrificed his life for his dream. And now his dream comes true.”
The 30-foot sculpture depicts King with a stern expression, wearing a jacket and tie, his arms folded and clutching papers in his left hand. Lei said through his son that “you can see the hope” in King’s face, but that his serious demeanor also indicates that “he’s thinking.”
The statue depicts King emerging from a stone. The concept for the memorial was taken from a line in the “I Have a Dream” speech, which is carved into the stone: “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.” Visitors to the memorial pass through a sculpture of the mountain of despair and come upon the stone of hope.
The National Mall site will be surrounded with cherry trees that will blossom in pink and white in the spring.
Sunday’s dedication ceremony will mark the 48th anniversary of the March on Washington and King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. President Barack Obama is scheduled to speak at the dedication.