Martin Luther King, Jr.’s status as an American icon was cemented Sunday following the dedication of a memorial in his honor. Now standing tall near the Tidal Basin, the memorial symbolizes his defense of civil rights and religion in the eyes of Washington D.C.’s African American and Christian communities.
“It was a hard fight getting this memorial,” said the Rev. Anthony Evans, the associate minister at downtown’s Mount Zion Baptist Church. “This is a clear example of what happens when you apply the ethics and principles of Jesus. Life is difficult but you can overcome with faith and a belief in equality and fairness.”
Evans said King was a powerful figure whose staunch faith called him to question his era’s racial injustice. Originally preaching at a Baptist church in Montgomery, Ala., King eventually left his ministry behind and led the fledgling national movement for civil rights regardless of race.
“Martin understood he had a higher calling,” Evans said of King’s personal evolution. “Christianity is about never giving up. It is a religion of protest against injustice. You can overcome sin, hardship and even life itself.”
Bishop Harry R. Jackson, Jr., senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in the Washington, D.C. area, said memorializing a man like King interested in faith and fairness provides society with a vital role model.
“We should want to emulate people like Dr. King,” he said. “It is hugely important to have people like him.”
Evans said King’s life especially empowers African Americans given their history of suffering. King’s emphasis on peaceful protest and kindness, he said, inspired them to achieve greater freedom through benevolence rather than bloodshed.
“This memorial stands for what is great about African American history,” Evans said. “We have a history and spirit of perseverance.”
Jackson said subsequent generations have forgotten the link between King’s race and his religion. He said King’s efforts eventually reshaped racial equality across America, but only because King believed in God’s glory.
“Dr. King’s message has the same inspirational qualities as the prophecies in recorded scripture,” Jackson said. “His monument is a symbol that men can live with intent to accomplish good things. It’s also a rite of passage or coming of age token that declares lasting contributions to America have been made by African Americans.”
Rosslyn M. Brock, chairman of the NAACP, said in a statement following the memorial’s dedication that its creation continued one of the 20th Century’s most enduring legacies. She said King’s name would remain synonymous worldwide for peace and understanding towards one’s fellow man.
“With all that Dr. King gave to the world, his most enduring gift may be the faith he had in others,” she said. “He trusted that if he provided the vehicle and destination, we would be able to forge our own path towards equality.”
Evans said that Americans of every color or creed could find inspiration in the new memorial. He said its status as a symbol of hope and justice joins many others in American culture.
“Here’s another monument to add to our nation’s rich history and this great experiment we call democracy,” he said. “It will serve as a rallying place for the nation.”