Like many of us who teach, I’m reflecting on my first semester of teaching – six months later – with both regret and affection. The regret I feel is now knowing I could have taught concepts and negotiated discussion in much better ways. But the (quite sweet) affection I feel is toward my nearly 60 students who breathed alive my sociological imagination with their eagerness and hope to learn and do. Little did they know, I needed their hope as much, if not more, than they needed my lectures, as my cynicism toward humanity those few months had been exponentially growing. And, thankfully, their hope worked its magic!
As an extra credit assignment, I told them to go to the new national memorial for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (who was once a sociology undergraduate student himself), write a reflection of their time spent there, and take a photo in front of the memorial. To my surprise, about 75% of students did the assignment! The following are BEAUTIFUL reflections from seven of my former students (nearly all freshmen), as they process the justice, democracy, hope, and love of Dr. King and his memorial.
Read and allow their hope-soaked words work their magic on you. Maybe you’ll breathe in some of their hopeful magic, too.
Peace … Bev
On December 3, 2011, I visited the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. I was extremely fascinated by the amount of work that was put into this memorial. It felt more like an exhibit as it consisted of three separate statues and a long wall with quotes engraved. The fact that I attended this memorial when it was a beautiful day, helped to make me appreciate the beauty of it. I really was emotionally moved from this experience.
The memorial conveys three themes that were central throughout Dr. King’s life: democracy, justice, and hope. The centerpiece of the memorial is the “stone of hope,” which is a 30-foot statue of Martin Luther King Jr. He is standing upright and poised with his arms crossed. He is staring out across water at the horizon. I noticed his eyes were focused to something over to the right. I’m not sure what exactly he was looking at but I expect it has some significance. This centerpiece is a cut out from the two large stones creating a pathway. Before the separation of these stones is the “mountain of despair.” This pathway is the entrance to the memorial. The view as you walk through is truly breathtaking.
There were a lot of different quotes engraved on the inscription walls made of granite. This wall was 450 feet long and consisted of 14 excerpts of King’s sermons and public addresses. All of these quotes were inspiring and empowered democracy, equality, and freedom. One quote I loved the most was one with which Liz, Dani, and I took a picture (see photo). It states, “Out of the mountain of despair, the stone of hope.” For me, I feel this quote links the entire memorial together. It sums up everything Martin Luther King, Jr. stands for and wants for the world: democracy, justice, and hope. It still fascinates me that the Civil Rights Movement wasn’t that long ago; only about 43 years ago. It is crazy that it took that long for equality in America to be granted. Even though all these laws are passed and America values freedom, equality, and liberty, discrimination is still found everyday. We must continue to take steps toward ending racism, classism,and sexism within our everyday lives.
Dr. Martin Luther King wanted to be remembered as a “drum major for justice, peace, and righteousness.” As one walks through the memorial dedicated to him, it becomes obvious that Dr. King achieved his goal and so much more. My experience at the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial in Washington, DC was a very solemn one filled with pride radiating from the other visitors. As I approached the memorial, I was immediately in awe due to the symbolic structure of a mountain missing its middle piece. As I entered the memorial site, I read the words, “Out of a mountain if despair, a stone of hope,” which were displayed on the piece of the mountain that was misplaced. The careful thought to make this quote come to life instantly inspired me, and I began to appreciate the memorial even more than I thought I would.
As I walked along the walls filled with inspirational quotes by Martin Luther King, Jr., I read them with a smile on my face as my head nodded in agreement with each of them. I watched as families walked while holding each other close and reading these quotes together. They stood there as a unit until each member was done reading. It was evident how much these quotes and Dr. King meant to them, especially to the families of color. However, I was pleasantly surprised that the people at this memorial were not only those of African American descent. There were people of all different backgrounds who were gathering in this location together to celebrate and remember this man who helped to create the more equal society we live in today. Their looks of appreciation, celebration, and admiration will be ones forever engraved in my mind.
Personally, I was privileged enough to visit this memorial the same weekend my aunt and little cousin were visiting me from New Jersey. I was so joyed that I could share this experience with both of them. Although my cousin is only eleven years old, the respect and knowledge he had about Martin Luther King really surprised me and made me proud that he understood how important this memorial is to so many people. We stood looking over the water at the Jefferson Memorial across the way and were able to appreciate the peace and civility of all the different people around us. This tranquility that I felt was only strengthened by the fact that I had the statue of Dr. King standing behind me.
One of the quotes on the memorial that particularly stood out to me was, “Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in” (MLK, Washington, D.C, 1959). This quote especially stood out to me because Martin Luther King is suggesting that individuals who fight for equal rights and improving society will not only improve themselves, but the world in which they live. With this said, I am reminded of our class discussions and how Audre Lorde suggests that in order to make a change in society, we must first ask questions and look inside of ourselves. By improving who we are as individuals, we will be more successful in improving the rest of society. Another quote mentions that a society at peace with itself is one that lives with its conscience. This quote inspires people to think before acting, question decisions, and being aware of the way we treat others. If we think before acting, we may be able to find ways to fight injustices without violence and allow peace to prevail. The Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial was not only inspiring and sentimental, but it also reaffirms the fact that creating a greater sense of peace can improve society for people everywhere.
I went to the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial with my teammates and the first observation I made was how beautiful this monument was. When I saw this assignment, I thought I was going to come to the monument, take a picture, look around and leave. As soon as I entered the monument, my whole point of view towards it changed. As soon as I walked in, I automatically went to the quotes on the inscription wall. A quote that caught my attention was, “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.” Martin Luther King Jr. believed in a non-violent approach to protesting against segregation, and even though he was not able to see the equality in the United States today, his quote about unconditional love will have the final word in reality.
It is amazing that everything that Dr. King preached about came true and it all started with his dream that he instilled in society. On the side of the Stone of Hope, which is the statue of Dr. King, it states, “I am the drum major for justice, peace, and righteousness.” During the time Dr. King was leading protests against segregation, the black community looked to his a leading in this movement while many of the white community looked at him as a dumb black man trying to change the system. Looking at how the Civil Rights Movement progress, it took a lot of people believing and trusting Dr. King and his inspirational words to end segregation. Like the quote on the Stone of Hope, Dr. King was the drum major and the African American (and the anti-racist) community was his band.
One of the most inspirational quotes I saw at this monument was, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” This quote represents how strong the black community is because for years they dealt with disrespect, discrimination, and injustice and they remained non-violent while always looking out for each other. For years, the black community was challenged and encountered controversy but they stuck together and found justice in a non-violent way. Martin Luther King Jr. was an activist for the Civil Rights Movement, but in one of the quotes from the memorial, you can tell he was not just fighting for equality with African Americans, but society in general. Dr. King states, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.” Dr. King did not want to just fix the segregation and discrimination with African Americans, but fix all the injustice in the government and society. After leaving the memorial, I took a closer look into the construction of the monument and where all the quotes on the inscription wall came from. It was interesting that all the quotes that were used were all from different speeches during Dr. King’s lifetime except the “I Have a Dream” speech. The point of the memorial was to show how much of an impact he has had on society, and not just from the “I Have a Dream” speech, but the hundreds of speeches he used to inspire a movement that changed the United States forever.
The Martin Luther King Jr. national memorial, a “Stone of Hope,” was officially dedicated on October 16, 2011 in Washington D.C., bordering Washington, DC’s Tidal Basin, between the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials. Interestingly, King’s memorial’s street address, 1964 Independence Avenue, references the 1964 Voting Rights Act, a milestone of the Civil Rights Movement. King’s memorial is both the first memorial to honor a black man, Civil Rights activist, and located on the National Mall.
King, a Civil Rights leader in the United States, became our modern day Moses of the Bible whose mission was to lead black people into the Promised Land, a society, where everyone that resides within the boundaries of the United States will be treated fairly with respect and dignity regardless of race, gender, or class. A society, in which all groups are physically and psychologically safe and secure and all groups can access resources/services equally. One could argue that without King, the Civil Rights Movement would not have made a great impact on American society. He was willing to risk his life to make America society, dominated by whites, embrace black people as human beings created by God. According to Dyson, King sought to teach Americans that our nation’s true identity lay not in color and hate but in diversity and love (Dyson 2000). King was not afraid to challenge the ideology of white supremacy by putting pressure on the United States government to abide by the true meaning of the Bill of Rights.
Also, the symbolism of his quotes at different times and places he visited was inscribed on the memorial wall. One of the quotes was, “Make a career of humanity, commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights, you will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in” (18 April, 1959): Washington DC). His quotes prove his leadership as someone who embraces truth and social justice. As agents of change, we can only be fruitful to our society as King challenges us, by using the knowledge we acquire in the classroom to help make our society a better place to live. Another quote: “Darkness cannot drive darkness, only light can do that, hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that” (1963) … In reality, darkness and light cannot work together. King used nonviolent methods based on the teachings of the late Mahatma Gandhi of India to fight for justice and equality. It is in building relationships that one will be able to understand the biography and the history of a person before making a conclusion. Everyone has something in them to give to society, no matter how big or small. The burden of social ill rests on everyone’s shoulder.
I visited the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in Washington, D.C. on the chilly afternoon of Saturday, November 19. My family, consisting of my parents, sister, and brother-in-law, went with me on this trip. I was quite eager approaching the memorial once I saw it from a distance. All I knew about the memorial was that there was a large statue of Martin Luther King Jr. carved out of stone.
Once I arrived at the memorial, I was impressed at how it was simple, yet grand at the same time. The large statue of the historical figure was amazing just from sheer size. Behind it were two other large stones made to seem as if they had been split apart from each other with their smooth sides facing inwards. The curved walls protruding from the outsides of these stones were inscribed with multiple quotes. The waterfalls on these walls were also a visually pleasing element.
Seeing the large stone depiction of a black historical figure being prominently displayed in the nation’s capital had me think about how far racial minorities have come in the past few decades. A century ago, if even a human-sized statue of a black man was displayed publicly, let alone in Washington, D.C., there would probably have been a significant riot and destruction done to it. When I visited the memorial, I felt a sense of respect among the visitors as they looked around quietly. There was a semicircle of a crowd around the large statue, standing at a distance to take in the whole thing. Many people just stood there admiring the piece. I believe this treatment of a memorial dedicated to a black man would be considered out of the realm of possibility by many people a century ago, as well as the thought of it being located between memorials dedicated to past presidents. This goes to show how our nation has greatly progressed in terms of segregation. But, I was also reminded that there are still large obstacles to overcome involving the inequalities racial minorities face today, as shown in our sociology class.
Inscribed on one side of the main feature of the memorial are the words “out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.” I believe this appropriate quote describes why the artist chose to portray Martin Luther King, Jr. emerging from rock. I love the whole concept of the statue. In my eyes, it shows that Martin Luther King, Jr. wasn’t cowardly, but was steadfast in his beliefs. He stood firm in his position of equal rights. He also had a stable foundation of supporters with him, so he wasn’t alone. The memorial and all the various quotes also reminded me of how intelligent he was. I imagined what it would be like to hear a speech of his in person, standing in a large crowd, probably scared and proud at the same time to be associated with such a group.
My trip to the memorial renewed my respect for Martin Luther King, Jr. and reminded me how influential he was in history. Hopefully sociological change will continue to happen in decades to come.
The first thing I would like to say about this experience is that it was more than just simply going to check out the monument of the most influential civil rights activist in modern history. It was the first time for me ever using the Metro or being in our nation’s capital, so this was very exciting and a great experience for me. I just think that, in and of it self, made the trip worth it. But anyway, upon entering the memorial you are greeted by two mammoth-sized boulders that mark the entrance to the park, with rough edges but cut completely flush in between where the visitors walk through. You then are surrounded with a marble wall of quotes given by Dr. King. One of my favorite quotes on this arced wall is this, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” I think that this quote has a similar message to what we have been taught in class on how to put an end to social injustices by creating relationships with other people outside of your social group. The root of hate is fear, and fear finds its roots in a lack of understanding or the unknown. The way to bring an end to fear, and thus hate, is by trying to understand that which scares you. And if you apply this to a social situation between people, this logic compels you to create a relationship and understand that which is different from you. And it is in this way that if people began to understand that which they fear, that hate that they carried would be on the way to being eliminated. So for this reason I think this quote is more that just powerful and religious sounding; it conveys the same message we learn today in our class on how to deal with and approach social injustices. After I looked over all the quotes from the mind of this great man I turned around and walked around the massive stone and saw a thirty foot sculpture of Dr. Martin Luther King standing, his powerful gaze staring off into the distance.
After admiring the colossal work of the monument, I could not help but notice the direction that he was staring off into. I followed his eye and turned around; across the pitch black and reflective Potomac River I saw the Thomas Jefferson monument. And I found this very interesting because Thomas Jefferson, one of our founding fathers, is thought to be a great mind of freedom and equality among all men, but he also was a slaveholder. Not only was he a slaveholder, but also he offered rationalization for slavery.
This is not a commonly know fact associated with Thomas Jefferson. And it was after realizing this that I could not help but think about the direction that MLK was facing and the powerful gaze in his eyes and if these two things were connected at all. Offering a silent visual protest to the hypocritical actions of one of our nations founding fathers, one that we hold in particularly high regard. It could be nothing and just a coincidence but it was just an observation I had when at the monument, reflecting on Dr. King’s accomplishments.
After receiving this assignment to go to the MLK memorial, I became instantly excited because I have never been to Washington, DC. I originally mentioned to my roommate that I was going to see the memorial as an extra credit opportunity but her reasons were different. She is 100% African American and she passionately wanted to go, which made me rethink my reason for going. I suddenly felt that I was fulfilling a dream of honoring my African American side. My roommate and I decided to take our mini-adventure by Metro on Saturday November 19. It was a beautiful day, no rain, or even a cloud in the sky. As soon as we stepped out of the station, we were greeted with the gigantic Washington Monument. My expectation was set high for the MLK memorial because of the size of the Washington Monument. As we walked along side of the construction to see the Lincoln Memorial, I was amazed by the detail of his marble face and temple where he sat. As the sun was setting, the lighting was beautiful and the weather was a dream. We continued along the path towards the MLK memorial. Suddenly we were confused by the cardboard sign that pointed to our destination. At first it appeared to be three medium sized boulders. We approached the entrance and entered the memorial. It was not as grand as the Washington Memorial nor as detailed as the Lincoln Memorial. This was disappointing, but I looked around at the tourists of all different races and it became apparent that it was not about how MLK was portrayed, but instead what the monument represented. The words “out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope” are engraved on the side. These powerful words made me rethink my first negative impression. A smile formed across my face and I honored his mark on black history. I am very happy that I visited this memorial and this proud feeling will be engraved in my memory as a great experience.
Bev is a fourth year PhD student.