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King Monument Highlights Future of Racial Equality

ViewPoints: Africana Studies Professor Shirley Weber discusses the importance of the 'Stone of Hope.'
Shirley Weber, professor, Department of Africana Studies. Photo courtesy of SDSU Library, Department of Special Collections and University Archives
Shirley Weber, professor, Department of Africana Studies. Photo courtesy of SDSU Library, Department of Special Collections and University Archives

The national memorial to civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. opened today. The monument, located on the National Mall in Washington D.C., will be officially dedicated Sunday.

Hope for the future

While the large sculpture recalls King’s work, SDSU Africana studies professor Shirley Weber believes the monument is more about the future than it is the past.

“The fact that there’s a national monument to Dr. King in Washington is a real statement that this nation is committed to arriving at a level of racial equality where we can make an effort and attempt to achieve the goals and objectives that he stated,” Weber said.

“Not that we’ve done it, but when you create a monument — a national monument — to a concept, an idea, it says that this is important to us and we’re constantly struggling to achieve it.”

Impacting the nation

The 30-foot sculpture, named “Stone of Hope,” is located across from the Thomas Jefferson Memorial and next to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial. For Weber, the fact that the new monument doesn’t memorialize a president or a past war is significant.

“It says you don’t have to be president to impact the nation. This is a peace piece — this is not the war piece; this is about peace. The monument says that the ordinary American can actually make the level of sacrifice to be recognized in the national sense. You’ve got a non-war person, a non-war memorial. This is a memorial of peace.

“When you begin to look at the significance of this, I think it says a lot for our young people that there are ways in which you can impact this nation that are much more positive and that, if you have a kind of commitment to the values and principles that are loftier than the ones that we see every day, that it is possible that you could find yourself in American history with a significant role.”

This is a peace piece – this is not the war piece.

Decades in the making

Originally proposed by a chapter of King’s fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, in 1984, President Clinton signed a congressional authorization for the memorial in 1996.

“The fact that it’s taken so long really talks about how deeply rooted the resistance to change is, how deeply rooted racism was – and is – in this country,” Weber said. “If it takes 30 years to build a monument, you can imagine how long it will take when we truly arrive at a level where race is not a major factor in American life.”

Editorial disclaimer: The opinions and views expressed above do not necessarily reflect those of San Diego State University or SDSU NewsCenter.    

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