THE Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., is the only African-American to have a national holiday in his honor, and now he will become the first to also have a monument on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. It is a deserved honor for a man who became the conscience of a nation that for too long refused to extend true liberty to all.
The King Memorial will be a symbol of hope, and not just for black Americans, but for all of us. To be American is to hope for this to become a better country, one that abides more fully by the principles established by the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. The $100 million King monument will be proof that one's hope can be realized. A symbol of that hope in the honor of a black man is something no one could have foreseen when the Reverend King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in August, 1963.
Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln might have been stunned to know that their monuments will flank the first black American's memorial in Washington. Dr. King was well educated and widely read, and very aware of what the Founding Fathers had written about their dream.
In fact, it's as if Dr. King built his own hopes on Jefferson's comment that, "I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past."
And almost certainly he was familiar with Lincoln's remark: "I want every man to have the chance - and I believe a black man is entitled to it - in which he can better his condition."
Often we forget that when Dr. King gave his famous and often-quoted speech, it was meant for every American. Of course blacks were central to his struggle against prejudice and discrimination. But he endeavored to ensure that all citizens could have access to the American promise.
The King Memorial will sit on a four-acre site near the Lincoln Memorial. In 2008 when construction is finished, it will mark the 45th anniversary of the March on Washington, and the 40th of the civil rights leader's slaying in Memphis.
A King monument on the National Mall will be a fitting memory for a man who wanted his country to be true to what the founders said - that it is a place for freedom and democracy for all.