Some are coming as part of church groups. Some are coming with the intent to renew King’s call to social justice. Many say they simply want to be part of history.
Khalilah Veneable Collins of Louisville was planning to visit with her two children and mother. Collins and her mother are members of the Montford Point Marine Association, which was created to promote the legacy of the first African American Marines.
“As a child, I fell in love with Dr. King and what he stood for and what he did for this country,” Collins said. “I try to pattern myself, to some degree, after him. His writing, his speeches and his legacy have a serious influence on the way in which I do my work.”
Sean Hunter of Charlotte, a pharmaceutical representative, described his planned visit to the memorial as a pilgrimage. He was going to travel to the District with his wife and three children.
“The significance of having this monument is huge. To recognize the struggle of what he went through says a lot,” he said. “It says that America is finally recognizing him amongst other leaders.”
But many present Monday did not have far to go.
Coleman, 68, a retired Labor Department analyst who attended the 1963 march, lives in Tenleytown.
She said that as her 16-year-old grandson, Anthony, ate breakfast Monday, she played him parts of King’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech, delivered the night before his assassination in Memphis in 1968.
“It was pretty interesting just to watch him,” she said as she waited in line for the memorial to open.
She said she grew up in Pittsburgh during the 1950s and ’60s, when there was name-calling. One local restaurant would not serve blacks, “even in Pittsburgh.”
Now, “when you really think about the fact that your grandchildren are doing well and have friends of all races and can go everywhere they want to go,” she said, “it doesn’t get any better than that.”
Staff writer Patricia Sullivan contributed to this report.