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Walking in the Footsteps of a Giant

Martin Luther King III carries on his father's legacy

Shortly after the 48th anniversary of the March on Washington, Martin Luther King III traveled to the nation's capital for the dedication of a new memorial honoring his father's life and legacy. When it was officially unveiled on Oct. 16, 2011, the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial became the first on the National Mall to pay tribute to an African American, and the only memorial not devoted to a president or a war. The four-acre plot it sits on along the Tidal Basin is close to where King delivered his soaring "I Have a Dream" speech.

See also: The Life and Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. 

MLK National Memorial

The memorial's "Stone of Hope" depicts the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — Photo by Michael Reynolds/EPA/Corbis

Today, Martin Luther King III believes that the $120 million memorial will inspire visitors from across the globe. King, who was 10 when his father was assassinated in 1968, has dedicated his life to his dad's causes. Now 53, he is the president and chief executive officer of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta. Here, he talks about the memorial, shares a few childhood memories and chats about some upcoming projects.

Q: Your father has been honored numerous times, including the Nobel Peace Prize, Time's Man of the Year and a federal holiday to mark his birthday. How does a national memorial rate among the other tributes?

A: It's a very special honor. When the King holiday was enacted [in 1983], I thought, well, this is about the highest honor a citizen can achieve. But a major memorial of this scale on the National Mall brings his legacy to another level. The nation's capital hosts thousands of visitors from all over the world, and this will be one of the major attractions. In a sense this memorial will globalize my father's legacy.

Q: Do you think the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial captures the enormity of his contributions to our nation?

A: In a symbolic sense, yes, since it is a major memorial. Viewing a statue can be inspiring and uplifting, but it can't really capture the details of his story and the philosophy that empowered his leadership. The King Center in Atlanta specializes in educating people about my father's life, work and teachings, and we have resources and programs available for that purpose.

Q: What are you currently focusing on at the King Center?

A: One of our most significant projects is the digitization of the King Library and Archives holdings, to make this unique resource available to people all over the world via the Internet. Anyone, anywhere in the world will be able to study my father's philosophy and methods of nonviolence in great detail so they can apply his teaching in their nonviolent struggles for justice and human rights.

Q: Are we any closer to achieving his dream?

A: Yes, we are closer in some respects. There is more racial integration in American life and many more people of color serving as elected officials and corporate leaders than there were during my father's time. But there is also reason for concern about new forms of racial oppression, such as measures to make it harder to vote, racial profiling and crushing public worker unions.

Next page: Parallels between President Obama and Dr. King. »

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