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The King Memorial: from martyr to the National Mall

Ph.D. | 10/19/2011, 5 p.m.

Killing King almost assured America would burn in its own national hell, as more than 200 cities rioted, but three days later came the Fair Housing Act and a watered down anti-lynching act (America has never passed a stand-alone anti-lynching law) as this postmortem continued.

The after-the-fact legislation was passed in memoriam to King, but the scars over King's death run deep. In the 20th century, he was given a federal holiday, co-opting "The Dream."

King meant different things to different people, but one thing is sure: America, both Black and White, has not gotten over King's death--not if you have any sort of a conscience. With the monument, the postmortem in memoriam for King continues almost a half a century after his death.

America's guilt seems to always arrive a minute too late. In the case of King, it was 43 years late ... but not too late to remind us what King truly meant to the social evolution of the nation.

Maybe the nation had not gone far enough in acknowledging what it had or in what King had done. America builds monuments to its heroes, a constant reminder of the contributions such heroes have made to society. The National Mall is reserved for presidents and war heroes, but mostly presidents. The greatness of America is in the men who built it and the men (and one day women) who defended its truest creed--liberty.

A monument suggests that King is now a certified and documented national hero, in perpetuity, for everyone who ever visits the National Mall from here on out. He probably is the only one (Lincoln included) who demanded liberty and justice for all people. King took the "White Only" sign down off the nation's most hallowed ground--its National Mall.

Of course, we could go there, but only to look at other people's heroes, whom we were told, were ours too. Still, we couldn't put up any statues of our own. King is the first non-president, non-war hero, non-White man on the Mall. His is also the first (mostly) privately funded monument. If the people didn't make it happen, it would've happened. It meant that much to us. Hopefully, it means that much to the nation. They only put these up every 40 or 50 years.

Martin Luther King Jr. is now in his rightful place as a national hero who changed the course, and the culture, of this nation. He now has a physical space in this nation's capital--like all the other major heroes we honor--on the Nation Mall.

He is a true American hero, with a monument to match his accomplishment...and his sacrifice...for the good of the nation. Let the record now reflect it.

Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum and author of the upcoming book, "Real Eyez: Race, Reality and Politics in 21st Century Popular Culture." He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com or on Twitter at @dranthonysamad.
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