In 1999 the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Foundation held an international design competition for a memorial to commemorate the life of civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. In 2000 a design by ROMA Design Group was selected from more than 900 entries. Shortly afterwards, Chinese sculptor Lei Yixin was recruited to join the design team. The foundation placed the memorial along the shores of the Tidal Basin on axis with the Lincoln Memorial and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, creating a visual and symbolic connection between the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, and Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
Dedicated on August 28, 2011, the 48th anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech delivered on the steps of the nearby Lincoln Memorial, the form of the monument was inspired by a line from the speech, “With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.” The primary entrance runs through a narrow gap shouldered by granite slabs sculpted to resemble a mountain split in half. Set slightly off to the side to offer a clear sightline to the distant Thomas Jefferson Memorial through the entrance’s narrow portal, a separate slab, representing the “Stone of Hope,” features an outsized sculpture of King emerging from a roughly hewn surface. Extending in an arc from the halves of the mountain, stone walls engraved with a series of quotations from King’s writings gradually descend towards the Tidal Basin,waterfront, framing the memorial’s hardscape plaza before curling outwards towards two subsidiary entries located on West Basin Drive and Independence Avenue. The memorial’s landscape architectural firm of record, Oehme, van Sweden & Associates (OvS), designed four acres of gardens planted with biomorphic arrangements of crepe myrtles, Princeton elms, winter jasmine, dwarf sweetspire, and daylilies. Nearly 200 cherry trees placed by OvS by landscape architects Oehme, van Sweden & Associates unite with those along the edge of the surrounding Tidal Basin.