A national memorial for Dr. King

Perhaps you’ve seen the advertisement while waiting to watch the rest of your television program.

The ad features Americans from all walks of life taking their seats at an endless table – a table of brotherhood – weaving its way through beaches, schools, streets and restaurants to Washington, D.C.

At the end of the ad, a little African-American boy looks up at a huge statue of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

On Aug. 28, a Sunday, the nation will commemorate the 48th anniversary of King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

And, also on that day, there will be a dedication ceremony of the King National Memorial.

According to the PR Newswire website, the memorial will be positioned in a direct line between the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials on the National Mall, where King delivered his speech.

The memorial’s centerpiece, the “Stone of Hope,” will feature a 30-foot likeness of King made of natural elements. It will contain excerpts of his sermons and public addresses to serve as living testaments of his vision of America.

It also will be the first memorial on the National Mall to honor someone other than a U.S. president. General Motors and the General Motors Foundation are the largest contributors to the memorial project, having donated more than $10 million.

The ad was created for Chevrolet by SpikeDDB, its African-American advertising agency of record, according to the website.

Certainly the King speech on that hot day in 1963, for me, ranks as one of the top four given by an American. My others are Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address; President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first inauguration speech; and President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration address in 1961.

Each of those speeches carries a famous sentence or partial phrase that we all remember.

Lincoln said, “Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation: conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

He ended that address with these words: “[T]hat this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom ... and that government of the people ... by the people ... for the people ... shall not perish from the earth.”

Roosevelt said, during the Great Depression: “That the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

And Kennedy challenged all of us by saying, “And so my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”

The King speech has so many great excerpts, including the ending, where the civil-rights leader proclaims, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we’re free at last.”

But my favorite remains this one: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

From the beginning of recorded history, certain people have risen up to serve as beacons of hope in dismal situations: Esther speaking before the king to save the Jewish people; Joan of Arc, the French heroine who led the resistance to the English invasion of her country in the Hundred Years War; Winston Churchill, who was the anchor in England’s resistance to constant bombing by the Nazis in World War II; Mohandas Gandhi, the political and ideological leader during the Indian independence movement against Britain; Chief Joseph of the American Indian Nez Perce tribe, who, in his final years, spoke eloquently against the injustices of U.S. government policies and racial discrimination against Native Americans; and Nelson Mandela, who staunchly opposed apartheid and rose from prisoner to president of South Africa.

King, the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, Medgar Evers, Jesse Jackson, the Freedom Riders, Rosa Parks and others in the civil-rights movement came along at a time when this country was reeling from its own racial tension.

As a person born in the 1950s and who lived through the turbulent 1960s and 1970s, I appreciate the sacrifices of those people — black and white — who made sacrifices so that I could drink from any water fountain; that I could enter any restaurant and be served; and I could have the opportunity to buy a house anywhere in America.

Certainly King had his faults. All humans have them.

I think having a national holiday dedicated to King and his legacy is sufficient for me.

But I don’t begrudge those who believe that his likeness deserves to be etched in stone as a permanent reminder of someone who saw how much greater America would become if all of its citizens were given the same unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Ernie Brown Jr., a regional editor at The Vindicator, writes a monthly column. Contact him at ebrown@vindy.com.

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