AU students celebrate MLK legacy at memorial
Members of the AU community came out to view the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall after its soft opening on Aug. 22. The memorial foundation, however, postponed the monument’s opening ceremony Aug. 28 due to Hurricane Irene.
The opening ceremony will be rescheduled to an unspecified date in September or October, according to the Washington Post.
Tyler Sadonis, the director of the Community Service Coalition and a School of Public Affairs sophomore, accompanied the SPA leadership program’s tour of the National Mall Aug. 26.
Sadonis said he and the new students were happy to see the memorial before the dedication ceremony. The site was still packed late Friday night with a solemn and awestruck audience, according to Sadonis.
“I saw a wide demographic of people,” Sadonis said of the crowd. “There was a multitude of ages from babies in strollers to senior citizens and all sorts of different ethnicities and races.”
Christyn Enser, a sophomore in the School of Communication, also visited the memorial earlier that day with her 12-year-old cousin.
“It seemed like people from all across the country were coming,” Enser said. “I heard one person talking about the storm coming in who said ‘I would have tied myself to a tree right here to be able to see this, I don’t care if the storm is coming.’”
Deon Jones, a D.C. Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner, was still disappointed at the dedication’s cancellation.
“He could march in the rain, but they can’t memorialize him in the rain,” Jones said. “It really shows how high class the activists have gotten now. He could march all the way from Selma to Montgomery over 100 miles, rain, shoes worn out. Now you have people today having to ride in cars, sitting in VIP sections.”
For Jones, a local political leader and African-American, the memorial is still poignant. Jones took part in the D.C. host committee, which planned events for the MLK memorial. He said that, at the last meeting, there were women in their late 60s and 70s who had participated in the March on Washington in 1963.
“They began to cry because they had faced the racism, had marched with Dr. King,” Jones said. “They started to cry because of how far this country has come and how much how hard they had fought for equality and peace. To see that erected brought tears to their eyes and tears to my eyes.”Charia Funchess, a sophomore in SPA, called the crowd at the memorial a true “melting pot” including whites, African Americans and Hispanics.
Funchess was also impressed with the detail and likeness of the statue. However, it was the juxtaposition of King, an ordinary citizen, between President Lincoln and Jefferson that left an impact on her.
“I think that people should think about him being between two very powerful men, that he’s the only person who’s not a president,” Funchess said. “This man who wanted and advocated for change for so long was just at the time an ordinary American man trying to make a change.”
Enser and her cousin agreed the memorial’s entrance and multiple viewpoints made it a standout on the Mall.
“It’s not like he’s being worshipped in a temple like something Lincoln has, or even Jefferson,” Enser said. “You can see him through all different angles.”
Even more than the imposing physical presence of the memorial, the dedication to Martin Luther King Jr. has been symbolic of the progress made since the March on Washington in 1963.
“I think it’s progression in American society, what it says is you don’t have to be elected to a position to be honored, you can actually do great things and great work and be honored,” said Donald Curtis of AU’s Center for Community Engagement and Service.
Curtis said CCES planned to visit the memorial dedication with ACLU volunteers until it was postponed due to weather. The project was spearheaded by AU Class of 2011 alumna Althea de Guzman, according to Curtis.
“Our mission is to be that glue between the alumni and undergraduates and often times in the community,” Curtis said.
AU in the 1960s
Long before King’s stone incarnation on the Mall, he left an indelible impact on D.C. and the AU community. As AU students now gather on a nearly weekly basis to rally for sanity, the Middle East or tolerance, many attended the March on Washington in 1963 where King delivered the famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
As marchers flooded in from across the United States, they looked to AU for a place to stay. According to a Washington Post article in 1963, the chairman of the housing volunteer group negotiated with AU for dorm space for 150 people.
Two years later, King was slated to speak on AU’s campus in April as the closing speaker for a three-day forum sponsored by the Center for Liberal Studies. However, King was not able to attend because of previous commitments, and his executive assistant Harry G. Boyte attended in his place.
Following King’s assassination on April 4, 1968, his impact on AU took a somber turn. The daily life of AU students was shaken up by the sudden and untimely death of the civil rights leader, from cancellation of classes to an extension of student government nominations, according to 1968 articles in The Eagle. In the District alone, violent riots raged for three days, according to the Washington Post.
According to a 1968 article in The Eagle, the doors of Anderson Hall were blocked on the evening of April 5. The article said that, while rumors circulated that this was a precaution against “the possibility of campus disorders following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.,” it merely coincided with Easter break. Still one Anderson resident was quoted as saying, “The tone in the dorm was not one of fright or fear, although there was a certain tenseness there was a much more prevalent feeling of grief, somberness and restraint.”
At the end of April, AU chose to commemorate the memory of King. On April 26, the Eagle reported that “as many of as 25 economically and socially disadvantaged students from Washington’s ‘inner city’ will be admitted as freshman here next year on full scholarship grants.” The program was tentatively planned to be dedicated in King’s memory.
Such commemerations continue today with student participation in the Martin Luther King Day of service every January. Over 200 students volunteered across D.C. on this day last year, The Eagle reported.