Many historic civil rights moments happened in Washington, D.C., and there are plenty of museums and memorials commemorating those who fought for justice. Here are three sites that celebrate the richness of the African American experience.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
One of the greatest moments of American history was when Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. An icon of freedom and justice the world over, Martin Luther King Jr. truly deserved his own monument on the national mall for decades. On Oct. 16, 2011, a memorial opened to celebrate his life, drawing thousands to Washington, D.C., and many more visitors since.
The memorial is based on a line from the “I Have a Dream” speech: “Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope.” Visitors pass through a symbolic mountain of despair to the stone of hope where they find a statue of King looking into the distance.
At the memorial’s dedication ceremony, President Barack Obama stated, “Our work is not done. And so on this day, in which we celebrate a man and a movement that did so much for this country, let us draw strength from those earlier struggles.”
Designed by sculptor Lei Yixin, the monument is the first memorial dedicated to an African American on or near the National Mall.
African American Civil War Memorial and Museum
The African American Civil War Museum, which opened in 2011, preserves and tells the stories of the United States Colored Troops and African American involvement in the American Civil War. Led by Colin Powell and Dr. Frank Smith Jr., the African American Civil War Memorial Freedom Foundation dedicated the African American Civil War Memorial (which depicts courageous soldiers and a sailor) and a Wall of Honor (which lists the names of 209,145 troops) in the city’s U Street neighborhood.
This neighborhood has long been a haven for African American art and culture. Elliott Ferguson, president and CEO of Destination DC, said Duke Ellington grew up there, and Ella Fitzgerald and Cab Calloway played at clubs like Bohemian Caverns.
"These facilities enrich the experience of Washingtonians and visitors who enjoy the nightlife and the history of U Street," he said.
National Museum of African American History and Culture
The National Museum of African American History and Culture -- poised to open in 2015 -- will stimulate a dialogue about race to foster a spirit of reconciliation and healing. The museum will educate the public through exhibitions and programs -- all related to African American history.
The NMAAHC will strive to represent African Americans from all regions of the United States and highlight issues such as slavery, Reconstruction, the Harlem Renaissance and the civil rights movement.