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Visitors Show Raw Emotion On MLK Memorial's Opening Day

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Hundreds of visitors came to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Aug. 22, on the first day it was open to the public. The memorial will be officially dedicated Saturday, Aug. 28.
Elliott Francis
Hundreds of visitors came to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Aug. 22, on the first day it was open to the public. The memorial will be officially dedicated Saturday, Aug. 28.

Thousands of people are lining up to view the new memorial to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, and the display and sculpture of the civil rights leader is evoking many memories.

The memorial to the murdered civil rights leader cost $120 million and was 25 years in the making. Made of 34 separate granite blocks, and standing at 30 feet, the sculpture of King emerging from the "stone of hope" is taller than the statues of Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson, whose memorials flank this plaza.

Blend it all together and it creates an evocative portrait of a leader who changed America forever.

For Annette Martin, who grew up listening to King, the rush of emotion as she first sees the sculpture is overwhelming.

"I miss him, because he did a lot of great things that when I was a child I didn't understand," she says, fighting back tears. "But as I grew up, I saw how much he really did. And those words that he said, we should be playing them every day."

Kimberly Brock, of Alexandria, grew up in Texas during Jim Crow segregation, and came to the memorial on the first day of its "soft opening" to pay tribute.

"You and I, 40 or 50 years ago, wouldn't be speaking like this," she says. "And so I've been on the verge of tears, and chills and excitement and pride for about a week now knowing this was opening up for Dr. King."

Even the man who created the statue, sculptor Lei Yixin has an image of Dr. King, formed as he grew up in his native China. But in his case, it's an impression that helped him not just create a work of art, but also tell the story of a leader.

"I knew of Dr King since I was a teenager," Yixin says, "He's not only a hero of Americans, he's a hero of the world. His vision of equality for the world is universal and everyone should pursue the dream."

The memorial will remain open through Thursday. It will close Friday and Saturday so the site can be prepared for the official dedication this Sunday, when President Obama will unveil the cloaked statue.

That ceremony will also mark the 48th anniversary of the march on Washington, when King stood on the steps of the Lincoln memorial -- just a few hundred feet from where his likeness now stands -- and told us all about a dream.

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