Although Rev Martin Luther King is memorialized on the National Mall and is indelibly associated to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where he delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech, there are a number of other places in DC where he left his mark.
In honor of Dr. King's, on the 53rd anniversary of his assassination, we've put together a list of 10 places in Washington to reflect on his life and legacy.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
Dr. King is the first African American to be honored with a memorial on the National Mall. The design for the memorial has its roots in a quote from King himself: “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope,” from his famous 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech; text from this speech is cut sharply into the rock of the Stone.
Visitors enter through the Mountain of Despair and tour the memorial as if moving through the struggles that Dr. King faced during his life. Visitors end in the open freedom of the plaza. The solitary Stone of Hope stands proudly, depicting the civil rights leader gazing over the Tidal Basin towards the horizon, forever encouraging all citizens to strive for justice and equality.
Surrounding the statue of Dr. King is a 450-foot long Inscription Wall, which features 14 quotes from King’s speeches, sermons and writings. Inscriptions were chosen by a special “Council of Historians,” which included Maya Angelou and Henry Louis Gates. Quotes were chosen with Dr. King’s four main principles in mind: justice, democracy, hope and love.
Lincoln Memorial Steps
On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and delivered his immortal "I Have a Dream" speech to about 250,000 people attending the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The demonstrators–Black and white, poor and rich–came together in the nation’s capital to demand voting rights and equal opportunity for African Americans and to appeal for an end to racial segregation and discrimination. The peaceful rally was the largest assembly for a redress of grievances that the capital had ever seen. Today, eighteen steps from the top landing of the Lincoln Memorial, an inscription marks the spot where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood to give his speech. The marker was placed in 2003 to mark the 40th anniversary of that speech. Coretta Scott King, Dr. King's widow, attended and spoke at the dedication.
Howard University's Rankin Chapel
As King was first rising to national prominence as a co-leader of the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1956, when he was just 27 years old, he visited DC and reportedly addressed 4,000 people at Vermont Avenue Baptist Church and at Howard University's Rankin Chapel. In his "Love Your Enemies” speech, he urged students to devote themselves to dismantling segregation and wealth inequality, emphasizing his concern with "the slums in this city."
As DC's black leadership ramped up its campaign for home rule in 1965—the District had lost the right to self-governance almost a century earlier—King joined the DC Coalition of Conscience and 5,000 home rule activists for a vigil at Lafayette Park in August 1965. King charged "Southern congressmen" with being "derelict in their duties and sacred responsibility to make justice and freedom a reality for all citizens of the District of Columbia."
Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library
Upon its dedication in August 1972, the DC Public Library’s new central branch—designed by famed modernist architect Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe—became one of the first public buildings in the country to be named in honor of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The naming of this iconic downtown edifice culminated four years of activism by residents from across the city.
Willard Intercontinental Hotel
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. sat in the hotel lobby with his closest advisors to make final edits to his famous “I Have a Dream” speech just hours before delivering it on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Clarence B. Jones, one of Dr. King’s political advisors with him that day, said he paid bellhops to create a secluded area hidden with plants in the lobby so King and his advisors could work together uninterrupted. Jones said he drafted the first paragraphs of the speech based on weeks of discussions. Then King retreated to his room -- number 310 -- to put the finishing touches on the famous speech. The hotel has since designated it the Martin Luther King Jr. Suite—and it is part of one of six 1,446-square-foot Oval Suites that can be booked upon request.
"Western Plaza" was renamed in 1988 to "Freedom Plaza" in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., who worked on his "I Have a Dream" speech in the nearby Willard Hotel. During that year, a time capsule containing a Bible, a robe, and other King relics was planted at the site. The capsule will be reopened in 2088.
"I Have a Dream" Mural
On the side of Mellon Convenience Store you can find a black-and-white mural of King, as well as a scene of the National Mall during the 1963 March on Washington. The mural was painted by DC artist Justin Poppe in 2013 as part of the D.C. government’s MuralsDC project. The store is located (fittingly) at 2921 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue Southeast.
National Museum of African American History and Culture
The NMAAHC has a number of objects in its collections that commemorate Dr. King, which you can peruse online or in person.
National Portrait Gallery
Head up to the second floor at the Portrait Gallery to see “The Struggle for Justice,” an ongoing exhibition on civil rights leaders including Betty Friedan and César Chávez, as well as King. You can also check it out online since the museum is currently closed.
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