Atlantic Cities

The Right Fix for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

The Right Fix for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
Flickr/Ron Cogswell

I am old enough and was lucky enough to have heard Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speak in person. It was not long before his death, at a mountain retreat facility owned by the Baptist church, not far from my North Carolina home. My friend Simon and I went. We were young, impressionable, and impressed.

I wish I remembered more of the details of the speech. The most vivid memory is his answer to a question from an audience member who asked why, as a civil rights leader, he had begun to speak out against the Vietnam War. His answer was clear as a bell: "I am a minister."

We honor Dr. King today, and many days. I try to have a post in his memory, one way or another, every year on his day. Last year, I had a photo gallery of community memorials for him. Not on his official day but, in October of 2010, I had the pleasure of publishing an article about Karja Hansen’s fine essay recounting her experience working on a revitalization plan in Montgomery, Alabama, along the route of Dr. King’s historic march from Selma to the state capitol.

Here in Washington, where the King Memorial was dedicated not long ago, Interior Secretary Salazar recently announced that the government would rightly correct a misleading quote that, out of context, made it sound like the civil rights leader was being self-laudatory, when he really was doing the opposite. Good. It is a powerful memorial and should reflect the dignity and humility of the man it honors.

As a country, and as a people, we are so much better for his leadership and service. I’ll leave you with what is, in my opinion, the greatest of all civil rights songs. 

This post originally appeared on the NRDC's Switchboard blog. Photo courtesy of Flickr user Ron Cogswell.

Kaid Benfield is special counsel for urban solutions at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an adjunct professor at the George Washington University School of Law, co-founder of the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system, and author of several books on cities, smart growth and sprawl. All posts »

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