In King's Honor, A Dream Achieved

By Petula Dvorak and Robert E. Pierre
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Two presidents, a renowned poet and lions of the civil rights movement joined thousands gathered on the Mall yesterday to mark the spot where a memorial will be built to honor Martin Luther King Jr., the visionary pastor who beseeched the nation to live up to its principles and earned a place in the pantheon of American history.

Ground was broken for a memorial to the slain civil rights leader to be built along the edge of the Tidal Basin, midway between monuments to Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. It will be the first on the Mall honoring an African American and the first that does not memorialize a president or a war hero.

Ignoring the gloomy weather, people wearing dapper hats and winter coats came by Metro, by bus, by limousine. Fathers brought sons to impart a history lesson. Celebrities waved and smiled. And dignitaries spoke of a movement sparked by a man trying to be a good minister.

President Bush said the memorial will give King his "rightful place among the great Americans honored on our Mall." He said King's message of justice and liberty "continues to inspire millions across the world" and was not silenced even when he was felled by an assassin's bullet.

"Dr. King was on this earth just 39 years," the president said, but his ideas are "eternal."

The crowd of several thousand attending the ceremonial groundbreaking gave a standing ovation to former president Bill Clinton, who signed the bill authorizing the monument on the prestigious piece of land tucked in the Tidal Basin's famous ring of cherry trees.

"It belongs here," said Clinton, basking in the crowd's enthusiasm. Jefferson "told us we were all created equal," and Lincoln abolished slavery; but both "left much undone," Clinton said.

He added that contemporary lessons could be learned from King's legacy of nonviolence. "Civil disobedience works better than suicide bombing," he said. And the memorial to King reminds people that "the time is always ripe to do right."

Clinton and Bush were joined by talk show host Oprah Winfrey, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), poet Maya Angelou, three of King's children and designer Tommy Hilfiger, among others.

On her way to the stage, gingerly stepping around the edges of mud puddles, Winfrey said she came to the event because "I've lived the dream."

On stage, she elaborated: "It is because of Dr. King that I stand, that I have a voice to be heard," Winfrey said. "I do not take that for granted. Not for one breath. . . . Because he was the seed of the free, I get to be the blossom."

King's children said they hoped the memorial would be a place where millions of children would come to learn about their father's work and the beginnings of the civil rights movement.

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