District Poised to Host Major Moment in History

Dorothy Rowley | 8/18/2011, 12:40 a.m.
As the District excitedly prepares to welcome hundreds of thousands of visitors for the Aug....

As the District excitedly prepares to welcome hundreds of thousands of visitors for the Aug. 28 formal dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial -- where President Barack Obama will speak -- the MLK Memorial Foundation is equally exuberant about a dream, 14 years in the making, that has come to fruition.

"We are so thrilled that this memorial to Dr. King will grace the National Mall in this great city, the District of Columbia," said Harry Johnson, MLK Memorial Foundation president. "We are so grateful to Mayor [Vincent] Gray for his leadership and for the support of his administration and the District's residents."

According to the Foundation, the ceremony will include participation of D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray; Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), members of the King family; former U.N. ambassador Andrew Young; and the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson.

The event coincides with the 48th anniversary of King's momentous "I Have a Dream" speech that was delivered at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. Poetess Maya Angelou, the Rev. Al Sharpton, former secretary of state Colin L. Powell and TV broadcaster Tom Brokaw are also expected to participate.

The King memorial commemorates the first national honorarium for an African-American and non-U.S. president . Congress passed a resolution in 1996 which authorized construction of the 30-foot, $120 million project that was launched by the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. The memorial, which was created by Chinese master sculptor Lei Yixin, honors the slain civil rights leader's worldwide contributions to the human race.

Dedication of the Memorial will mark a major moment in history, with Gray stating during a press conference that King led a revolution which transformed the world.

"We in the District of Columbia are taking that revolution to the next level in our quest for self-determination," Gray said. "Throughout the [days] leading up to the dedication, the District of Columbia will host several events to engage residents."

Meanwhile, the city is poised to welcome some 400,000 people for events that range from the Aug. 23 D.C. Residents' Day - which will be a special preview of the massive bronze memorial to King -- to a slate of receptions and dinners, film showings, marches, exhibits, and an MLK street dedication.

The District is not the only local force gearing up for its role in history: Metro along with the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) are among several local agencies and organizations that have announced plans as well.

"We have an early opening [at 5 a.m. instead of 7 a.m.] and we will be running additional services on all of our rail lines," said Metro spokesman Dan Stessel.

But Stessel said it would be difficult to know how many people would be riding both its buses and trains during the five days of events from Aug. 23-28.

"We're planning for this to be a major event, right up there with the Fourth of July," Stessel said. "What the full number [of commuters] will end up being, we just don't know exactly. There's just no way to predict that."