Week 21: Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial


Memorial project mission: To commemorate the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by leading a collaborative funding, design, and construction process in the creation of a memorial to honor his national and international contributions to world peace through non-violent social change.

I had initially planned to visit the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on Tuesday, the day after MLK Day, to avoid the crowds, but then I picked up another day of work (yay!) and Monday became the only day I could see the memorial. It was crowded, but I was glad, since the high number of visitors means lots of people admire and care about Dr. King.

There were a number of activities planned at the memorial throughout the weekend, though it was a little hard to find out what they were. The memorial’s website constantly refers to a monument that has yet to be built, with sections like “Construction Updates” and information about events that happened in 2006. I was able to find information on current programs in a WUSA article.

Once I was at the memorial, I decided to wander around on my own and take pictures. It was just too cold to comfortably stand in one place for half an hour to listen to a ranger’s talk, and my fingers were too frozen to fill out the scavenger hunt activity, but I did take a copy with me. The “Memorial Quest” scavenger hunt is a bit lengthy, though anyone who does complete it will have a much deeper understanding of the context of King’s life and of the memorial. A single bonus question at the end, “What quotation from Dr. King would you add to the memorial if you could?”, encourages visitors to consider their prior knowledge of Dr. King. The question is also perhaps a nod to public outcry about which quotes and parts of quotes were actually chosen for the memorial.

The “open book” nature of the scavenger hunt allows visitors to use a variety of sources to gain information, including the park rangers and volunteers. (From my own experience, I can’t help but sympathize with the rangers who may find themselves bombarded by students who want the rangers to dictate all 15 answers!) A prize awaited visitors who finished the quest.

Location is important to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

Location is important to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

With the site comprised of the memorial itself, a small bookstore, nice clean brand new restrooms, and a little office for the rangers, the memorial is not really a museum. I think of the collection of Tidal Basin memorials as a museum-of-sorts as a whole, with the collection consisting of the various monuments. (I count this visit to the MLK Memorial as a Weekly Museum Visit only because I have already been to all the other monuments.) Certainly, the proximity of the King Memorial to the others is not coincidence. The scavenger hunt questions ask visitors about the importance of place in terms of memorial location, site of the “I Have a Dream” speech, and upcoming Cherry Blossom Festival.

It was poignant to see the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. For folks who wanted an actual museum experience, options abounded; just a few examples are the National Museum of American History, the National Children’s Museum Launch Zone, and the Corcoran. Every day at the Newseum, you can find references to Dr. King throughout the building, most prominently in the News History gallery; Internet, TV, and Radio gallery; and civil rights film.

I hope everyone had a happy and meaningful MLK Day!

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About Laura

Paralegal with Master of Arts in Teaching in Museum Education, frequent museum visitor, based in Washington, DC. I care about what museums can do, both in terms of public offerings and internal practices, to make the world a better place. I blog about museum education ("informed"), the social work of museums ("humane"), and visitor experience ("citizenry").
This entry was posted in Museums and Holidays, Photos, Weekly Museum Visits Part II and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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