Back in 1963, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his now famous "I Have a Dream" speech during the March on Washington, the National Mall overflowed with people who'd traveled from near and far seeking equality for all Americans.
Almost a half-century later, visitors to Washington have the chance to bear witness to history and "the dream" as a national memorial to honor King is dedicated Aug. 28, a date that coincides with the 48th anniversary of that groundbreaking march.
President Barack Obama, members of the King family and civil rights leaders, along with a slew of dignitaries and celebrities, are expected for the dedication ceremony on the National Mall, which is open to the public.
But visitors can view the memorial as soon as Monday, when it officially opens to visitors.
"The city is preparing to welcome thousands of celebrants from across the country and around the world with whom Dr. King's message of peace resonates," says Elliott Ferguson, president and CEO of Destination D.C., the city's tourism arm. "We're seeing a particularly strong interest from visitors coming from the Southeast."
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial is the first on the National Mall to pay tribute to an African-American and a non-president. It will be adjacent to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and in a direct line between the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials.
Located on the Tidal Basin, the King memorial will be surrounded by dozens of the famed Japanese cherry blossom trees and newly planted crape myrtles.
It is described by planners as an "engaging landscape" complete with natural elements and water, meant to convey four themes that were fundamental to King's legacy: democracy, justice, hope and love. The centerpiece — the "Stone of Hope" — features a 30-foot likeness of King. A 450-foot crescent-shaped granite wall is inscribed with King's sermons and public remarks, though not the iconic "I Have a Dream," speech.
Just as freedom seekers traveled to the original March on Washington by bus, car, train, plane and on foot, officials are expecting an influx of visitors from around the country.
"We expect the memorial to enjoy high attendance in the weeks immediately following the opening weekend similar to the World War II monument, which opened in 2004," says Ferguson.
In the days leading up to the dedication, festivities such as concerts, an interfaith prayer service and an expo with vendors at the D.C. Convention Center are planned. Many activities are free.
"The dedication has been long-awaited," adds Harry E. Johnson Sr., president and CEO of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation Inc. in Washington. "People from around the world are coming to experience this tremendous, historic moment. We are excited to welcome them all."
Darryl R. Matthews Sr., a former president of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. — to which King pledged when attending Boston University — said many of his Alpha brothers from Baltimore and across the country will be on hand. Congress passed a joint resolution in 1996 authorizing the fraternity to establish the memorial.
"We are coming to honor and rededicate ourselves to the ideals of this stalwart 20th-century visionary," says Matthews. "This event is a testament as to what can happen when diverse groups come together for a common cause. This was Martin's dream for America."
While many Americans rightly associate King with his Atlanta birthplace, the nation's capital also boasts a unique and substantial connection to the leader.
Visitors to Washington who would like to explore civil rights beyond the new memorial have plenty of options — from walking tours to exhibits and other stirring experiences. Here are 10 recommendations for following King's legacy:
•Civil War to Civil Rights walking tour. Cultural Tourism DC offers this self-guided tour through downtown Washington. There are 21 recommended stops along the route, marked by placards. Go to culturaltourismdc.org. Also, Destination DC has created a pocket guide with commentary, maps and a short history of the 1963 March on Washington — "Experience the Dream: The Official Washington, DC Travel Information Guide for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial."
•The Lincoln Memorial. The site where King delivered his now-famous speech, while overlooking a massive crowd on the Mall during the March on Washington. Footprints mark the spot.
•U Street area. The scene of riots after King's assassination in 1968, the revitalized area is now hip and trendy with shops, clubs and eateries. Visit The African-American Civil War Memorial and Museum for history of the U.S. Colored Troops. Afterward, drop into locally owned Ben's Chili Bowl, a restaurant patronized by Bill Cosby and Obama.
•The National Cathedral. King preached his last public sermon here. Four days later, he was slain.
•The Willard Hotel. The hotel is known for hosting U.S. presidents and royalty, and King composed part of the "I Have a Dream" speech in one of its swank rooms.
•Madame Tussaud's. The renowned wax museum boasts a statue of King.
•Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, 901 G St. N.W., 202-421-8608. Among its current exhibits is "King in Magazines (1957-1968)," which highlights his charismatic leadership and tragic assassination in actual issues of Life, Time, Ebony and Jet magazines.
•Howard University, the National Museum of American History, National Archives, etc., can be used to do research on King.
•Raise a toast to King. Hot restaurants DC Coast, Ceiba and Acadiana have created specialty cocktails in King's honor. The Dream is a blend of bourbon, apple cider and honey, garnished with a cinnamon stick.
The Liaison Capitol Hill. The hotel has a dramatic oil portrait of King, measuring 6 feet by 6 feet, created by Arizona artist Randy Slick. It's part of series displayed in the lobby near other political leaders such as Ghandi, Dwight Eisenhower and Winston Churchill.
If you go
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial will be dedicated at 11 a.m. Aug. 28 on the National Mall in Washington, but the memorial officially opens to the public on Monday. Hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Monday and 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Because of security preparations for the dedication, the memorial is closed to the public on Friday and Saturday.
D.C. officials held a public lottery for tickets to the official dedication ceremony. Because of overwhelming demand, there are now alternative outlets for tickets that grant public access to the official viewing area. However, the public is welcome to stake a spot elsewhere on the National Mall, where video screens will be set up. Aretha Franklin, Jennifer Hudson and Stevie Wonder are expected to perform at the dedication. A free concert, with participants yet to be named, will follow the ceremony.
The memorial is at the intersection of West Basin Drive S.W. and Independence Avenue S.W., and admission is free. Visitors are encouraged to use the Metro, which will open two hours early on Aug. 28. A one-day commemorative pass is available for $9.
A gospel concert at the Kennedy Center from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Friday is free, as is a prayer service at the National Cathedral on Saturday. Various other events during the weeklong celebration require tickets. Go to dedicatethedream.org.
Destination DC, the city's tourism arm, is offering hotel room plus dedication ticket packages, offering one- or two-night stays at more than a dozen participating Washington hotels. Go to washington.org/MLK or call the hotline at 855-201-1655.
The Liaison Capitol Hill is offering the Stay & Dream Weekend package, including king accommodations, breakfast for two each day at Art and Soul, the restaurant helmed by celebrity chef Art Smith, cocktails for two and more. Rates start at $189 per night and the package is available until Sept. 6. Use promo code MLKPKG when booking.
Go to buildthedream.org or washington.org for more details.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun