Guide To The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

By Randy Yagi

With the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday just around the corner, one of the best ways to celebrate Dr. King’s enduring legacy is to visit the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington D.C.. Unveiled to the public in August 2011, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial is a moving tribute to the late Baptist minister, civil rights leader and Nobel Prize winner Martin Luther King Jr. who died tragically in 1968. Situated on four acres along the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial is the 395th unit of the National Parks System and the newest memorial and first to honor an African American on the National Mall and just the fourth to honor a non-president.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

Photo Credit: Thinkstock


Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
1964 Independence Ave. S.W.
Washington, DC  20024
(202) 426-6841
www.nps.gov/mlkm

Hours: The memorial is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Park rangers are on duty daily from 9:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Tickets: There is no admission fee.

About The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial 

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial was first unveiled to the public on August 22, 2011, with the official dedication originally scheduled a few days later on August 28, 2011, in observance of the 48th anniversary of Dr. King’s  famous “I Have A Dream” speech. However, due to unsettled weather due to Hurricane Irene, the official dedication had to be delayed until October 16, which coincided with the 16th anniversary of another landmark civil rights event, the 1995 Million Man March. The actual location of Dr. King’s speech, delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at the western end of the National Mall in 1963, is marked with an inscription in stone that the name and date of the one of the greatest and most famous speeches in American history.

The centerpiece of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial is the 30-foot tall (9.1 meters) statue of Dr. King, whose likeness is depicted standing tall as he emerges from a granite “Stone of Hope”, with two more granite structures representing a “Mountain of Despair” behind it. Collectively, the quote “a mountain of despair, a stone of hope” was taken from Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream”speech, and are inscribed on either side of the statue.  A second, paraphrased and controversial quote originally on the statue – “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness” – was removed from the memorial in 2013, just ahead of  the official observance of the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which culminated with his public speech in front of 250,000 people on the National Mall. The centerpiece, created on 159 granite blocks by the famed Chinese artist Master Lei Yixin, is positioned in a manner in which it connects in a straight visual line with the Lincoln Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial, to symbolize the connection between these three great American leaders.

Upon reaching the memorial, visitors symbolically pass through the twin towers of the “Mountain of Despair”, before reaching the “Stone of Hope”, with Dr. King further depicted with an eternal gaze overlooking the Tidal Basin. Behind the magnificent centerpiece is a 450-foot long Inscription Wall with the engravings of 14 of Dr. King’s most famous quotes, taken from notable speeches and sermons, but does not include his most famous quote of all, “I Have A Dream”. Also on the four-acre site are a ring of 182 cherry blossom trees, which are now a prominent part of the famous collection of Yoshino Japanese cherry trees that were originally planted in 1912 as a gift of friendship from Japan to the U.S.

Related: Your City Guide To Washington DC

How To Get There 

By Car

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial is located south of the National Mall in West Potomac Park, near the intersection of Independence Avenue SW and West Basin Drive SW. Visitors traveling to the memorial by personal vehicle, taxi or riding sharing services like Uber or Lyft must take note that the physical address is different from the official address of 1964 Independence Avenue, which commemorates the year of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The physical address is 1850 West Basin Drive SW and should be used for any visitors or motorists relying on a GPS device for directions.

By Public Transportation

The best and most affordable way to reach the memorial is with DC’s public transportation system, which includes the Metrorail subway system, Metrobus and the Circulator buses.

Circulator Buses

Of the three transportation options, the Circulator is the most affordable and its National Mall route has the closest stop to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, near the intersection of Independence Avenue SW and West Basin Drive SW. The National Mall route originates from Union Station, with departures running approximately every 10 minutes and makes other stops within the National Mall, including the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. Regular fare on Circulator buses is $1 and discount fare for seniors and people with disabilities is 50 cents. Transfers within a two-hour period are provided` only to those who use a SmarTrip Card.

Metrorail

Although the Metrorail is the most efficient way to get around Washington D.C., the closet station to the memorial is Smithsonian on Independence Avenue SW, with service to this station provided by the Blue, Orange and Silver rail routes. From the station, visitors must then walk approximately one mile to reach the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. All visitors must have a SmarTrip card in order to ride Metrorail, although children ages 2-5 may ride free for each fare paying adult. Metrorail fares are classified as either peak or off-peak. Peak basic fare is $2.15 minimum and $5.90 maximum, whereas off-peak fare is $1.75 minimum and $3.60 maximum. Seniors 65 and over, people with disabilities and customers with a Medicare card with a valid ID are eligible for half the peak fare with a reduced fare SmarTrip card.

Tour Operators

If public transportation isn’t a practical option, visitors can also visit the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial as part of a city tour provided by a local transportation operator. Among the top rated are of the hop-on, hop-off variety, such as DC Tours, Old Town Trolley, Gray Line and Big Bus. For visitors who only wish to see a certain number of attractions, private tours are also available from businesses like Private Tours of Washington, Private DC Tours and Washington Signature Tours.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

Photo Credit: Thinkstock


What To See

In addition to the towering statue of Dr. King, the Inscription Wall and the cherry trees, visitors may also wish visit the bookstore. Visitors may also take part in a ranger program and/or guided tour of the site, which are held throughout the day. Nearby points of interest from the memorial include the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and the Korean War Veterans Memorial. Other notable sites requiring a longer walk or transportation include the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Jefferson Memorial. Although the Washington Monument is closed until spring 2019, visitors can still view the famous obelisk from multiple vantage points.

Related: Foodie’s Guide To Washington DC

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