Hundreds Celebrate First Anniversary of King Memorial

Elton Hayes | 9/6/2012, 2:48 p.m.

Reggie Hammond made his first visit to the memorial a memorable one. Hammond, a Georgia Department of Health and Human Services employee, visited the District on vacation from Atlanta, Ga. The irony wasn't lost on Hammond who said he always takes friends and family visiting Atlanta to the Martin Luther King Jr. Center. And while much of society has undergone a radical transformation, Hammond said more can and needs to be done.

"As we've gone through integration, I think that our children have gotten farther away from the culture from which we have come from and the sacrifices we made," said Hammond, 55. "I think we have to keep reinforcing the fact that [young people] are able to do what they want to do because others before them paid the cost."

As the sun slowly slipped behind skyscrapers across the Potomac in nearby Rosslyn, Va., it created the perfect magenta backdrop as the celebration concluded with a showing of The Long Walk Home, the 1990 film that chronicled the lives of two Alabama women during the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott.

Many who attended the anniversary celebration showed up for various reasons.

Ivan Tilghman had just returned home from Vietnam when King was assassinated in April 1968. His death devastated the young soldier who struggled to understand how a country that sent him to risk his life on the battlefield didn't deem him worthy enough to share a restroom with Caucasians. Forty-two years later, Tilghman stood no more than 500 feet from the statue of the man he respects and reflected on the current state of race relations.

"I feel like [society has] improved. But, we have a long way to go. This monument is a great step toward realizing King's dream that all men are created equal and all men should walk together, hold hands and be in harmony with each other," said the 68-year-old Bowie, Md. resident.