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Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
1964 Independence Avenue SW
Washington, DC  20024
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial is a tribute to the great civil rights leader of the 1950s and 60s
Martin Luther King Jr. Photograph

Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1964

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial is an open air memorial dedicated to one of the most influential civil rights leaders of the 1950s and 60s. The centerpiece of the memorial is an enormous sculpture of King carved into a stone emerging from a mountain.

Located in West Potomac Park off the National Mall in Washington, DC, King’s memorial shares the Tidal Basin with the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, and is in view of the Washington Monument. It was symbolically placed in the middle of the axis that joins the Jefferson Memorial with the Lincoln Memorial, where King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963. In a city of monuments to former presidents and military leaders, King’s memorial stands righteously amongst those who dedicated their lives to advancing and defending the cause of freedom.

Designing the Memorial
Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial sculpture by artist Master Lei Yixin

The inspiration for the design of the memorial came from a line in King’s “I Have a Dream” speech stating, “With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.” At the entrance of the Memorial stands a stone mountain (the “mountain of despair”) cut into two pieces with a gap in between. From the gap emerges the central piece, a 29-foot high relief sculpture of King carved into the stone (“a stone of hope”). He is standing steadfast in his minister’s suit with arms folded gazing across the Tidal Basin into the horizon toward the Jefferson Memorial, holding a rolled up copy of the speech in his left hand. His stern expression frozen in stone reminds us that humankind’s struggle against oppression is eternal, and must be fought with persistence and fortitude.

Etched lines on the sides of the stones give a sense of motion where the stone has emerged. Visitors can pass through the Mountain of Despair to reach the Stone of Hope to make the visit a more immersive experience.

Martin Luther King Jr Memorial

Front entrance of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial showing the center “Stone of Hope” emerging from the split “Mountain of Despair”

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

Quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech carved into the side of the “Stone of Hope,” the inspiration for the design of the Memorial

The memorial is surrounded by a 453-foot curved wall engraved with fourteen quotes from King’s speeches, sermons and writings. Landscapers planted nearly 200 Yoshino cherry trees on the grounds that bloom every spring around same time of year as the anniversary of his assassination.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Plaza

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Plaza in spring when the Japanese cherry trees are in bloom

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Inscription Wall

Inscription wall of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial containing 14 quotes from King

The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation, Inc. was established to raise funds and manage the design process. They chose the architectural firm ROMA Design Group’s plan for the memorial after an intense competition with hundreds of entrants. Then they selected Chinese artist Master Lei Yixin to hand carve the sculpture, which he based on his study of hundreds of photographs of King to capture the right expression. From his studio in Changsha, China, he carved the sculpture into 159 blocks of shrimp pink granite, shipped them to Baltimore and assembled them on the memorial construction site. Nick Benson of The John Stevens Shop in Newport, Rhode Island spent more than two years engraving the text with a typeface that he developed and named “King.” Here’s a time lapse video of the construction process. President Barack Obama spoke at the dedication ceremony in 2011.

Who Was Martin Luther King, Jr.?

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Baptist minister from Atlanta, GA and one of the most influential leaders of the civil rights movement from 1955 until his tragic assassination in 1968. He led marches, demonstrations, and boycotts pressuring political leaders to end racial discrimination, segregation, and economic inequality. As a follower of the Bible, he led the movement through prayer, song and the teachings of Jesus Christ, and committed to fighting hate with love and violence with non-violence. With his profound, spiritual reasoning expressed through powerful oratory and the written word, King won the war of public opinion that resulted in real and lasting social change. Under his leadership, the persistent efforts of those who participated in the civil rights movement achieved success with the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. King’s unwavering commitment to nonviolent protest won him the Nobel Peace Prize on October 14, 1964. Four years later, on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, TN on the balcony of his hotel room. The devoted activist, husband and father was just 39 years old.

Martin Luther King, Jr. leading the Selma to Montgomery march in 1965

Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King at the Selma to Montgomery March in 1965

Martin Luther King Jr. delivers I Have a Dream” speech during the August 28, 1963 March on Washington

Martin Luther King Jr. delivers the “I Have a Dream” speech during the August 28, 1963 March on Washington

A Model for Change

Today, King’s legacy of bringing social change through nonviolent resistance serves as a model for all of those suffering oppression. His towering figure carved in stone overlooking the nation’s capital is a reminder of the powerful role individuals can play in changing the hearts and minds of both the government and fellow citizens.

Planning a Visit

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial is open 24 hours a day and is operated by the National Park Service. Guided and non-guided tours are available. Check the website for details or ask a park ranger on site for information. A bookstore is on site across West Basin Dr. near the front entrance of the memorial with restrooms and a park ranger window.

The best way to tour the memorial is on foot. One option is to walk the 2.1 mile Tidal Basin Loop to view three famous memorials – the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. If you don’t mind large crowds, spring is the most beautiful time of year to visit when the soft, puffy pink and white Japanese cherry blossoms are in full bloom. Check here for updates on the annual peak bloom forecast.

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in the spring during cherry blossom season

You can also view the monument from the Tidal Basin at the Jefferson Memorial or by renting a paddle boat during the warmer seasons. If a walking tour is not an option, check out the other ways to reach the Memorial here.

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial looming over the TIdal Basin

Watch His Famous Speech

Master Lei Yixin

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