Plans for Sunday’s dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial on the National Mall have been postpone until September or October due to Hurricane Irene which is expected to hit the D.C. area by late Saturday or early Sunday.
As a result Hurricane Irene dashed hopes of paying tribute to the late civil rights activist on the 48th anniversary of his “I Have a Dream” speech.
In an email, Executive architect Ed Jackson Jr. stated that the hurricane bearing down on the East Coast had forced the postponement of the dedication originally planned for 11 a.m. Sunday. President Barack Obama was to have been one of the scheduled speakers at beside the King sculpture erected on a 4-acre site in the nation’s capital.
Harry Johnson, the president of the foundation that built the memorial, said at a subsequent news conference that he decided Thursday afternoon to postpone the dedication after studying the weather forecasts indicating Irene would potentially make weather conditions unsafe for visitors. He also said a Saturday black-tie gala event also has been postponed.
“We all are saddened by this. I remained optimistic all day, but Mother Nature is Mother Nature,” Johnson said at a news conference called at the Washington Convention Center.
But he added, “The memorial is going to be there forever.”
The forecasts threatened heavy winds and rains in Washington as Irene was expected to take an unpredictable path up the East Coast this coming weekend, the weather service said.
Organizers had previously said they expected to draw up to 250,000 people for what was to have been a tribute and celebration of the King legacy. The memorial was to have been dedicated on the 48th anniversary of King’s famous speech delivered less than a mile away on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
The hurricane was only the second disruption or organizers who also had to contend with a rare East Coast earthquake on Tuesday.
The 5.8-magnitude earthquake that caused a crack on the upper part of the Washington Monument had forced organizers to change a venue for a Saturday event celebrating the memorial’s dedication. An interfaith service had been planned Saturday the National Cathedral, but that landmark building suffered damages from falling capstones from the quake centered in neighboring Virginia.
Located between monuments to Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson, King’s memorial is the first monument on the National Mall honoring a black leader. The memorial is a 30-foot-tall sculpture in which King appears to emerge from granite carved to resemble the sides of a mountain. The memorial faces southeast across the Tidal Basin from the Jefferson Memorial and was sculpted by Chinese artist Lei Yixin. Jackson did much of the planning for the memorial over the past 15 years.