District residents will have the chance for an exclusive tour of the new $120 million Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial on Aug. 23, a day after it opens to the public and days before a star-studded dedication where President Obama is scheduled to speak.
“All too often, when national events happen, the District of Columbia is an afterthought,” Gray (D) said in an interview. “We wanted our citizens to come see this and hopefully be motivated by the memorial.”
Gray held a news conference at the memorial, which is still under construction. The mayor, city officials, the news media and others were allowed to peek behind scaffolding to see the 30-foot sculpture of King that stands alongside the Tidal Basin, adjacent to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and between the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials.
The King memorial is a distinguished addition because it recognizes a non-president and an African American, said Harry E. Johnson Sr., president and chief executive of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation. Johnson spoke with reverence about the memorial that has been 26 years in the making, but he also joked that King is in great company.
“To put him between Lincoln and Jefferson? Location, location, location,” he said.
Details of how District residents can get timed special passes for the Aug. 23 viewing will be announced next week, Gray said, adding that the city did not designate Aug. 22 as the day because it is the first day of class for D.C. public school students.
The process for getting passes will involve online applications and in-person requests at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library downtown.
The library will recognize the memorial dedication with a series of programs getting underway Aug. 22. Naomi King — King’s sister-in-law — will discuss a documentary about her husband, the Rev. Alfred Daniel Williams King, on Aug. 25. The Morehouse College Glee Club will perform at noon Aug. 27 at the library.
Residents are being asked to join a rally and march for “full democracy” on Aug. 27. Participants will gather on Freedom Plaza and join the national March on Washington at 17th and Constitution.
Gray, who was arrested earlier this year for a protest against a federal budget vote that he believed was unfair to the District, said it was an opportune time to highlight the District’s lack of voting rights and statehood. He noted that King spoke of the District’s status in 1965. “That is as contemporary today as it was 45 years ago,” Gray said.
Other local events include an Aug. 26 reception for out-of-town elected officials hosted by Gray and the Aug. 25 dedication of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.