MLK memorial dedication Sunday to feature Obama, stars and civil rights figures

Seven weeks after a hurricane wrecked plans for the original ceremony, the dedication of Washington’s new Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial is scheduled to take place Sunday amid sunny skies, pleasant temperatures and a throng of dignitaries from across the nation.

President Obama is slated to deliver the keynote address at 11 a.m., following three hours of pomp and celebration at the site of the $120 million granite memorial on the northwest shore of the Tidal Basin, off Independence Avenue.

The crowds gathering Sunday are not expected to be the size of the 250,000 that organizers had predicted for the original dedication. That was planned for Aug. 28, the 48th anniversary of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington.

But the foundation that created the memorial still has set up a stage for entertainers and 10,000 folding chairs for spectators in a field adjacent to the memorial where the public can watch the ceremony on huge TV screens.

The dedication is free. Tickets are not required. People can also bring their own picnic blankets and chairs.

Gates open at 6 a.m., and spectators can access the West Potomac Park public viewing area via four gates on Independence Avenue SW.

The ceremonies are scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. with an hour-long “Morning Joy” public music program, hosted by journalist and commentator Roland S. Martin.

The dedication program, moderated by “PBS NewsHour’s” Gwen Ifill, is set to begin at 9 a.m. in the paved forecourt of the memorial.

That part of the festivities is not open to the public, but will be telecast on the big screens on site and live by some TV networks.

The foundation said it expected members of the King family to attend, along with such figures as the Rev. Jesse Jackson, former U.N. ambassador Andrew Young, former NAACP chairman Julian Bond and U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) — civil rights leaders who marched with King in the 1950s and 60s.

Entertainers such as Aretha Franklin, James Taylor, Sheryl Crow, Jennifer Holliday and Sweet Honey in the Rock are scheduled to perform.

The memorial, which is illuminated at night, includes a small, elegant waterfall and a granite inscription wall with 14 King quotations.

The project has been attended by some controversy — from the selection of a sculptor and materials from China, to the size and severity of the image of King, to a paraphrase of a King quote that appears on the side of his statue.

But the memorial, which has been open since Aug. 22, has proved popular with the public.

On a drizzly day this past week, a group of school-age children were lined up alongside the towering statue, as a woman, who appeared to be their teacher, drilled them in famous lines from the “I Have a Dream” speech:

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal. . . .”

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.

I have a dream today. . . .

Michael covers monuments, memorials, institutions; lore, ghosts, people of Capital, topics historical, martial, medical.
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