Martin Luther King Day Draws Crowds to New National Memorial

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, people like David and Miriam Sanders visited the national memorial on Independence Avenue despite the bitter temperature forcing residents to bundle up from head to toe.

Men, women and children surrounded the monument, located between the Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson Memorials, snapping photos of each other and the sculpture of King. Those in attendance shared their opinions of the civil rights leader.

“People just didn’t challenge outwardly the discrimination that we endured—less so me but more so my parents and people before me,” said Sanders, 63, a resident of Upper Marlboro, Md.

“You become complacent—not complacent, not happy about it—but accepting of it, and here’s somebody who challenged it and challenged it straight on, so I would say that’s what to me was so inspiring about Dr. King.”

For Sanders and his wife, Miriam, this was their first trip to the monument. Having grown up in North and South Carolina, he recalled how the older black community acted cautiously as to not cause any racial conflict with white people. He said King’s leadership in the Civil Rights Movement meant he would be walking into danger head on, an action he considers courageous.

Miriam Sanders, 61, who grew up in the District, recalled standing on the right side of the Lincoln Memorial during King’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington in 1963. She said she was struck by the diversity of the crowd that gathered there. She described D.C. as a city divided across racial lines.

“Truth be told, I remember the march so vividly,” she said. “The crowd really was the big story for me.”

SongRise, a D.C.-based a cappella group, came to the monument to help energize and inspire the crowd through music. Sarah Beller, 30, is the co-founder of the women’s group, whose mission is to inspire people to act for social justice through song. Beller and five members of the two-year-old group asked visitors to sing along as they gathered in honor of King.

“I think he’s a symbol of an extremely important moment in our country where it was founded to be a place where everyone had equality, but it wasn’t actually the case, and it still isn’t completely the case,” Beller said, “but that was an extremely important moment of change where our country was able to start living up to its own stated values better.”

Children of the Westport Homes Boys and Girls Club in Baltimore wrote essays about how King affected their lives. Laure Julliard, unit director, said the organization selected 10 children with the best essays to travel to the monument and participate in a community service activity.

While others traveled the distance to reach the memorial, Atlanta resident and artist Reginald Gillumo stood at Independence Avenue and 14th Street holding a “one of a kind” canvas he created in King’s image.

He constructed the painting using a mix of acrylic and $400 worth of MAC makeup. Gillumo, a native of D.C., has also painted a canvas of President Barack Obama.

Miriam Sanders says it is important to recognize the Civil Rights Movement and the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. as something that continues today.

“We point to him as this charismatic leader, but there were leaders before him and there will continue to be leaders,” she said. “We need to think of it as a continuation, as the arc of justice not a point in time.”