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Testament to MLK's message

By Jim Chaffers

As senior design juror, I was asked, with colleagues, to craft an international design competition inviting participants to design a memorial that would perpetually convey the meaning and messages of Dr. King.

“No monument to Martin” . . . this charge from Coretta Scott King, coupled with the MLK Design Committee’s intent to create an “Oasis of Freedom and Justice,”  cemented  our common quest for a ‘living memorial’ to honor Dr. King.

More than 1100 entries were received from 52 countries, with the winning entry ultimately coming from ROMA Design Group, an architectural and landscape design firm in San Francisco.

After years of presentations to the Fine Arts Commission, the National Park Service, and the National Capitol Planning Commission, site approval was gained along the Potomac River Basin, on the National Mall. As it sits, the Memorial site aligns with the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, on what is being called, the “Path of Leadership.” I share the belief that, the MLK Living Memorial will be a place of celebration, contemplation, and education.

I am in full agreement with Dr. Ed Jackson, Executive Architect, when he says, that “with its unique siteing along the water’sedge of the Washington DC Cherry Blossom Promenade, we will be reminded each spring of Dr. King’s living legacy and of a need to re-dedicate ourselves to his noble quest for Peace, Love, Dignity, Justice, and Democracy.”

To this end, a collective hope is that visitors will be re-inspired to not talk about Dr. King, but to act on his challenges; to truly embrace each other—as we all move to get beyond artificial barriers of ethnicity, race, nationality, gender, et al., to really get at the essence of what makes us what we are. Completing fourteen years of collaborative work, inspired by Dr. King, the Memorial is meant, primarily, as a reminder of what it means to “examine the content of our character.

Examining my character, I am reminded to look deeply and intensely at my own habits and aspirations — to continually reexamine and act upon my own challenges, obligations, and opportunities — so that I might be a beacon, as Dr. King was (and yet, remains) . . .

Jim Chaffers is professor emeritus at the University of Michigan A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture & Urban Planning