The historic celebration will be held Sunday, Aug. 28, according to Cleveland native Dr. Cornell D. Lane, a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. whose organization was authorized by Congress to develop the national monument. Lane is also an alumnus of the former College Hill School.
The memorial, which will take its place among many tributes to prominent Americans whose work has molded the cultural landscape and values of the United States of America, will honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Assured of capturing the national spotlight, the dedication will bring to fruition years of work by Civil Rights Movement historians and followers who have sought to have King’s work memorialized as a symbol of hope, humanity and equality among all people.
Expected to be a moving and emotional commemoration, especially among those who lived through the Civil Rights era of the 1960s, the historic dedication will be held in the West Potomac Park. The date was selected in observance of the 48th anniversary of King’s legendary “I Have A Dream” speech whose vision embraced a widening cause that changed the course of America and the mindset of Americans.
The monument will be housed on a 4-acre site along the Tidal Basin, adjacent to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial on a direct line between the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials.
The history of the King National Memorial transcends a 15-year voyage. On Sept. 28, 1996, the U.S. House of Representatives passed Joint Resolution 70 authorizing Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. to establish a memorial in Washington, D.C., honoring the slain civil rights leader. The U.S. Senate followed by adopting Joint Resolution 426 on Oct. 3, 1996.
On July 16, 1998, President Bill Clinton signed a Joint Congressional Resolution authorizing the memorial’s construction.
In December 1999, the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity formed an international panel of architects and designers to develop and coordinate the program, Lane explained.
The design competition attracted more than 1,900 registrants and more than 900 proposals were submitted by architects, landscape architects, students, sculptors and professors from 52 countries. In September 2000, the design by San Francisco-based ROMA Design Group was selected and Master Sculptor Lei Yixin was named Sculptor of Record for the project in 2006.
Yixin’s task was to capture “... not only the likeness of Dr. King, but his essence and spirit as well.”
In 2007, a joint design-build venture comprised of McKissack & McKissack, Turner Construction, Tompkins Builders and Gilford Corporation was selected as the project contractor.
According to promotional literature describing the memorial, it reflects King’s vision for change through peaceful means. Too, it seeks to evoke the presence of the leader’s courage, truth, unconditional love, forgiveness, justice, equality, reconciliation and peace — all of which he sought through lifestyle and personal practice.
As visitors enter the parted stone pillars that serve as an entrance to the emotion-stirring memorial, they are presented with a monolithic stone with the text from King’s most famous speech carved into the side and with King’s image carved on the other side, gazing out over the Tidal Basin, literature explains.
Lane, a 1958 graduate of College Hill, which educated African-American students in Cleveland before its closure, is president of the College Hill School Alumni Association. He is one of several founding fathers of the National Association of School Psychologists.
A retired professor who taught at Tennessee State University, Lane is rallying support for attendance at the memorial’s dedication in Washington, both on a national level and from within the diverse Cleveland and Bradley County community.
“This will be a chance to be a part of history,” Lane said. “I strongly feel this should be one of the most well-attended events in this nation’s history.”
Now a Nashville resident whose Cleveland roots are as deep as they are wide, Lane said his campaign to promote awareness of the coming historic event points to the significance of the observance as a cross-cultural gathering that recognizes a melding of hearts and minds.
In some smaller communities, word of the King National Memorial and its coming dedication has been slow to spread.
“This monument is for everyone,” the educator explained. “It will be a public sanctuary where future generations, regardless of race, religion, sexuality, gender or nationality can gather and feel the presence of this great man.”
The former college professor urged local residents to consider making the trek to the nation’s capitol.
“This is one of the most historic occasions in the birth of this country,” Lane stressed. “This is a black man who is going to have a monument unveiled by the president of the United States. It’s going to be near Lincoln [Memorial] and it’s going to be on the Potomac. People are coming from all over the world.”
Lane will attend and he hopes to see other Cleveland and Bradley County natives, and current residents, there as well. He encouraged other College Hill School alumni, many of whom still live in Cleveland, to make plans to attend the national celebration.
The retired educator said his invitation to attend isn’t going to any specific racial or cultural groups; rather, he is extending his hand to all who believe in the same principles espoused by King — those of equality for all men and women regardless of race, ethnicity or cultural persuasion.
“This [dedication] shows what the world thinks,” Lane stated.
He said he understands planning such a trip for an event that is only two weeks away can be difficult. But at the very least, awareness of the King National Memorial — regardless of attendance at the dedication — will help local residents to plan for future trips and vacations to Washington.
Those who do attend the dedication, which will include an address by President Barack Obama, will live a moment in history just as Americans did who lived — and learned — through the sometimes volatile Civil Rights era.
“This [attending the dedication] is a nonviolent show of support for a man of the world who was for all people; [a man] whose standards and culture were under trying times — and whose dream is being realized,” Lane said. “And the world sees this.”
Too, the dedication will be educational — for the young and the old.
“We know about the Civil War,” Lane offered. “We know about [Dr. King] being killed. We know about a whole lot of things. Knowledge is power. I’m going. Thousands will be there.”
He urged others to “... learn about it, and make a decision.”
Although the dedication takes place Aug. 25, the Memorial Dedication Weekend will actually kick off Thursday, Aug. 25, with a full itinerary.
And for those who want to attend, but can’t due to timing, transportation, cost or work schedules, he encouraged them to mark it on their calendar for a future visit.
For more information on the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial, and the dedication, visit the website www.buildthedream.org.