Tourists and Washingtonians got their first up-close look at the memorial to the U.S.civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
The site opened to kick off a week of celebrations ahead of Sunday’s official dedication.
The memorial sits on the National Mall between memorials honouring Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson. It includes a 30-foot (9-metre)-tall sculpture of King and a 450-foot (137-metre)-long granite wall inscribed with 14 quotations from his speeches.
The sheer size of the sculpture of King sets it apart from nearby statues of Jefferson and Lincoln, which are both about 20 feet (6 metres) tall, though inside larger monuments.
A panel of scholars chose the engraved quotations from speeches by King in Atlanta, New York, Washington, Los Angeles and Montgomery, Alabama, as well as from King’s books and his letter from a Birmingham, Alabama, jail.
One of the stone engravings reads: “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
The site will be surrounded with cherry trees that will blossom in pink and white in the spring.
Sunday’s dedication ceremony will mark the 48th anniversary of the March on Washington and King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. President Barack Obama, the first black U.S. president, is scheduled to speak at the dedication.
The Chinese sculptor, Lei Yixin, said he wanted the memorial to be a visual representation of the ideals King spoke of in his “I Have a Dream” speech.
“His dream is very universal. It’s a dream of equality,” Lei said through his son, who translated from Mandarin. “He went to jail. He had been beaten, and he sacrificed his life for his dream. And now his dream comes true.”
The sculpture depicts King with a stern expression, wearing a jacket and tie, his arms folded and clutching papers in his left hand. Lei said through his son that “you can see the hope” in King’s face, but that his serious demeanour also indicates that “he’s thinking.”
The statue depicts King emerging from a stone. The concept for the memorial was taken from a line in the “I Have a Dream” speech, which is carved into the stone: “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.” Visitors to the memorial pass through a sculpture of the mountain of despair and come upon the stone of hope.