It was an experience like none other, an experience that proved how far the country has come since the Civil Rights Movement.
“Within 50 years we’ve gone from me not even being able to sit here, because of segregation, to us having a black president,” Saundra Ardrey said.
For Ardrey, head of the political science department, attending the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Ceremony on Sunday with her daughter was an important occasion.
The MLK Memorial marks the first time an African American and non-president has received a memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
“If we are looking at the founding fathers and those that helped establish country and its moral fabric then he really needs to be there,” Ardrey said. “He was a drum major for peace and equality, and those are symbols of the American way.”
President Barack Obama, King’s family, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Al Sharpton and many other notable guests all attended and spoke at the dedication in front of a crowd of thousands.
Ardrey said people from all over the country came to the dedication, and the crowd was filled with both white and black, young and old.
“It was a proud crowd,” Ardrey said. “Everybody was respectful and in a good mood.”
The event held special significance for Ardrey, as her father was an active participant in the civil rights movement, and the dedication served as a way to remember him and his accomplishments as well.
Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-Ky., gave tickets to the dedication to Ardrey knowing of her father’s involvement in the movement.
Ardrey grew up in Raleigh, N.C., in the 1960s. Her father, Earle Curry, coached soccer at Saint Augustine’s College. Curry helped organize student sit-ins at restaurants and businesses that refused to service African-Americans. Ardrey was 10 years old at the time, and remembers her father and other civil rights activists meeting with King and his leadership at her church as King made his way towards Washington, D.C. for his “I Have a Dream” speech.
John Hardin, a history professor who teaches African American history, discussed how the memorial is a way to immortalize the message of the movement and King’s speech.
“When he was making that speech in 1963 on the mall…it was to remind people that it was a movement not just simply to get rights for blacks but to treat all people equally and fairly,” Hardin said.
The memorial itself consists of a 30-foot-tall replica of King made of granite, dressed in a suit and tie with his arms crossed.
The statue is dubbed the “Stone of Hope,” taking a phrase from King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in which he said, “Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope,” and making it reality.
Ardrey said that even though America has made great strides since the 1960s towards equality, there is still more to do.
“Now that we have the memorial let’s not stop, that’s not the final step,” she said. “There is still much work that needs to be done.”