"Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope." Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
This photograph is a project I thoroughly enjoyed. The King monument is filled with memories and symbolism that I find very moving. Located southwest of the National Mall along the Tidal Basin, it is a favorite of mine along my usual walking path. As with each of my memorial photos, I visited the King sculpture many times, observing it's development from pre-construction to public opening. The landmark stirs so many emotions in me that it actually took time for me to pin down the feelings I wanted to capture in a photograph. The placement between the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, for example, honors Dr. King's leadership; his placement adjacent to the FDR memorial connects him with another great American who also dedicated his life to promoting human dignity; as do the quotations from his many powerful and moving speeches that line the walls surrounding this magnificent memorial.
Yet many of the comments I overheard while studying his memorial centered on the symbolism of the stone that Dr. King is carved from. "What's with the stone?" I would hear people ask each other. I have to admit, I, too, struggled to understand why this stone figured so prominently in the King monument.
Then one day shortly after sunrise I drove to the monument and parked adjacent to the Memorial Book Store. This positioned me to enter the memorial from the main entrance for the first time. In all of my prior visits I entered from the path along the Tidal Basin.
As I walked through the space separating the stones representing the "Mountain of Despair," the warm sunlight cast a gentle shadow behind Dr. King, as if to guide me as I followed him through and, ultimately, out of the mountain of despair. In that moment, everything fell into place for me.
By entering the memorial from the the Tidal Basin my focus was on the the man. By entering from the main entrance, however, I was facing his back, as the sculptor intended. Now my focus was on the journey, not the man. The champion of human dignity was once again showing us the path from injustice to justice -- A path carved in stone, for all who would follow.
This photo was composed to highlight that path of lasting hope borne of untold suffering and sacrifice.
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Vision Statement says that it's purpose is to capture "...the essence of his message, a message in which he so eloquently affirms the commanding tenets of the American Dream – Freedom, Democracy and Opportunity for All..." As I read in the news each day stories of ordinary men and women around the world who yearn to embrace the human dignity that Dr. King gave his life fighting for, it reminds me that this American dream is really everyone's dream.