Biden, Harris Attend MLK Memorial 10th Anniversary Celebrations (photos)


The 10th Anniversary of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial was celebrated on-site on Oct. 21 with a ceremony attended by special guests President Joe Biden, Vice-President Kamala Harris, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Wilton Cardinal Gregory.

In his keynote address, President Biden linked his legislative priorities on voting rights, police reform and climate change to MLK’s push for racial justice. “We see the constant push and pull between progress and struggle over the self-evident truth of our democracy. In our nation, we now face an inflection point and the battle, literally, for the soul of America,” said President Biden. Vice President Harris highlighted the importance of voting rights across the country. “Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere” said Cardinal Gregory echoing MLK’s 1963 “Letter from the Birmingham Jail.”

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial sits on a 4-acre site along the Tidal Basin in Washington D.C. In its center stands a 30 foot-high granite statue of Dr. King carved by sculptor Lei Yixin, taking its inspiration from a line in MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech: “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope,” imagining an end to racial inequality. (The statue stands past two other pieces of granite that symbolize the “mountain of despair.”) It is estimated that more than 3 million people visit the site every year to pay homage to the Rev. Dr. King and his universal message for equality and social justice as mirrored in his 14 quotes inscribed within the Memorial.

The original dedication ceremony was scheduled for August 28, 2011, the 48th Anniversary of that speech, but had to be postponed until Oct. 16 of that year due to the expected arrival of Hurricane Irene. By contrast, Thursday’s ceremony took place in bright sunshine.

The long struggle for Black equality was evoked in several musical selections. Michele Fowlin, Director of the DCPAC Children’s Gospel Choir sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” often referred to as “The Black National Anthem.” It was written in 1905 at a crucial time in Black history when Jim Crow was replacing slavery and African-Americans were searching for an identify of their own. Minister Dr. Wintley Phipps sang “Amazing Grace,” a song originally written in the 1700s by a slave trader-turned-abolitionist. It was a reprise of Phipps’ moving performance over the casket of Rep. John Lewis at the U.S. Capitol.

Festivities actually began the prior evening with an Anniversary Gala inside a packed ballroom at the Marriott Marquis Washington D.C. Hotel. We are celebrating this milestone anniversary to remind our nation why we built a memorial to Dr. King and to reflect on what we can still learn from the legacy he left for our world,” said Harry E. Johnson, Sr., President and CEO of The Memorial Foundation. Of the foundation’s four themes – democracy, justice, love and hope – Johnson said the third has been the focus of the anniversary celebrations, given the hardships faced by many Americans this year.

Nigerian born Abby Koya sang the moving African-American spiritual “Nobody Knows de Trouble I’ve Seen” with visual flashbacks to the Rev. Dr. King and the Civil Rights movement. She then followed it all up with Irving Berlin’s joyful “God Bless America.”

Attending the gala were freshman U.S. Senator Raphael G. Warnock (D-Ga.), since 2005 the senior pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the church where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was co-pastor from 1960 until his assassination in 1968, and the location of the funerals of both Dr. King and congressman John Lewis. He was joined by several members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Co-chairs of the event were noted fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger, businesswoman Shellye Archambeau and entertainer Lionel Richie.

Also in attendance were Jeff Reinbold, National Park Service Superintendent of the National Mall and Memorial Parks, and Kym A. Hall, his National Capital Area director. Since the Memorial opened, the National Park Service has assumed responsibility for the memorial’s operation and maintenance.

The Bahamas Prime Minister Philip David credited Bahamian independence and democratic governance in no insignificant part to the Rev. Dr. King and the American Civil Rights movement. David presented to the Foundation a painting of Dr. King with Bahamas labor leader Sir. Randall Fawkes who is best remembered for his role in bringing Black majority rule to those islands.

The Memorial is a result of an early effort of Dr. King’s Morehouse College Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. Many of his fraternity brothers were in attendance.

To continue the Rev. Dr. King’s work, the Memorial Foundation has launched a Social Justice Fellowship program bringing together young people from across the country to learn from leaders and activists over an eight-week period. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has been a life long “obsession” to one of these young leaders, Fellow Geoffrey Preudhomme of Roanoke, Va., who first learned about him in 2001 in the first grade and has studied his works ever since. “He [MLK] has guided me in one way or another throughout my life… and to celebrate at his memorial 20 years later is the greatest honor.”

Looking up at the Statue of MLK following the ceremony stood another Social Justice Fellow, Devan M. Vilfrard of Tallahassee Fl. A child of Haitian immigrants, Vilfrard is now a senior at Florida A&M University and President of the Youth & College Division at Florida State Conference NAACP.  Vilfrard sees a future in politics where he hopes to “continue the work and legacy of Martin Luther King – his leadership, his passion and his dedication to the community.”

House Majority Whip, Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) concluded his keynote address at the 10th Anniversary Gala by declaring that “This country does not have to be made ‘great again.’ This country is great. Our challenge is to make this country’s greatness accessible and affordable for all of its people.”

View a slideshow of Jeff Malet’s photos from the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial’s 10th Anniversary Gala at the Marriott Marquis Washington D.C. Hotel (Oct 20) and the Celebration at the MLK Memorial (Oct 21) by clicking on the photo icons below..

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