The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial was to have been dedicated this last Sunday, but that was interrupted by Hurriance Irene. This monument has already received much publicity, both positive and negative. These are my thoughts on the matter:

(1) This Memorial was inevitable. Can we imagine Washington D.C. never displaying a statue of the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? I can’t. So whether or not you think that his statue should have been added to the National Mall you should realize that it was bound to happen sooner or later.

(2) Personally, I like that he has been given a Memorial in the National Mall. Dr. King did as much for our nation as Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and others. He deserves our recognition for what he did for the United States. He stood against many of us, for us, and he helped make us better.

(3) Yet I understand the concerns expressed by Cornel West and others. In a New York Times article titled “Dr. King Weeps from His Grave” Dr. West argues that Dr. King wanted a revolution, not a memorial. He says,

“King weeps from his grave. He never confused substance with symbolism. He never conflated a flesh and blood sacrifice with a stone and mortar edifice. We rightly celebrate his substance and sacrifice because he loved us all so deeply. Let us not remain satisfied with symbolism because we too often fear the challenge he embraced.”

So true, and this is the great danger we face in creating a memorial for Dr. King. It may allow us to think we have arrived. We may think that Dr. King’s dream has been fulfilled. We may think the work is over. A Memorial can be empire’s way of saying, “Congratulations on a job well done. You got what you wanted, now shut up.” We cannot let this happen.

(4) We must continue to fight for Dr. King’s dream. This is still a Eurocentric culture. It still espouses white privilege. It is still easier for a Caucasian to get a job than a Black or a Latino. Our prisons continue to be overpopulated with Black and Latino men for reasons that often go far beyond crime-and-punishment. It is still true that a man makes more per hour doing the same job as a woman because he is a man. It is still easier for the rich to get richer than for the poor to get out of poverty. There is much that must be fought for and against. Dr. King’s Memorial cannot come to mean that we are done. It must remind us that we’ve only just begin.

(5) The Memorial must remind future generations of where we’ve been and what we’ve done. I say that out of both sides of my mouth. We have made progress. Slavery has been abolished. Segregation is no longer legal. But it was this country that supported slavery and Jim Crow laws. If I have children I want to take them to the Memorial to tell them of the great Dr. King. I will tell them of the importance of the Civil Rights Movement. But I won’t tell them this so they think we’ve progressed and that all is said and done. It will be a reminder of our corporate sins, our injustice, and the human capacity for evil. It will be a reminder that if we aren’t careful there will be a group that becomes oppressed right before our very eyes. I want my children to know that we’ve come along ways, but I don’t want them to forget from where we’ve come.