WASHINGTON — Some were locals who have watched for years as the memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. took shape on the National Mall. Some were tourists who happened to be in Washington the day it opened. All felt honored to be a part of history as they gazed at a towering granite sculpture of the civil rights leader.
Hundreds of people slowly filed through the entrance to the 4-acre memorial site on a warm, sunny Monday morning in the nation's capital. Before reaching the sculpture, they passed through two pieces of granite carved to resemble the sides of a mountain.
About 50 feet ahead stands the 30-foot-tall sculpture by Chinese artist Lei Yixin. King appears to emerge from a stone extracted from the mountain, facing southeast across the Tidal Basin to the Jefferson Memorial.
The design is inspired by a line from King's "I Have a Dream" speech, delivered during the March on Washington in 1963: "Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope."
While visitors snapped photos, shot videos and spoke with dozens of reporters, the mood was quiet and respectful.
"I'm ecstatic," said Tehran Wadley, 35, of Washington. "It brings tears to my eyes, just to be able to see this."
King is the first person of color to have a memorial on the Mall. It is surrounded by memorials to presidents — Thomas Jefferson to the southeast, Abraham Lincoln to the northwest, Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the south.
"I think it's appropriate," said Frank Myers, 49, a Teamsters union officer from King George, Va. "His contribution was just as great as any of the presidents. This country's come a long way as a result of him and people like him."
The memorial cost $120 million, and Harry E. Johnson, president of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation, said the group is $5 million short of reaching that goal.