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Stanford Report, September 20, 2000

Carson collaborates on winning design of national memorial to Martin Luther King


A national memorial on the Washington Mall honoring Martin Luther King Jr. will be built according to a design by a San Francisco firm that collaborated with history Professor Clayborne Carson.

The winning work by ROMA Design Group, which includes architects, landscape architects and planners, was selected from more than 900 submissions from more than 34 countries by an international panel of judges meeting in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 13. The design will use water, stone and trees as physical metaphors for democracy, justice and hope ­ recurring themes in King's life. Carson says the metaphors were taken from King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech, which included such memorable imagery as "Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope" and "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream."

Carson, editor of the Martin Luther King Jr. Papers Project, says that the ROMA Group approached him to help with the design. "From the beginning, it was a matter of ideas," he says. "They knew a lot about design but not a lot about King. It just meant that we would build on each other's strengths."

The memorial will be built on a 4-acre site on the Tidal Basin between the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials, not far from where King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963. It will include a wall, streams of water and a path with niches. Rough, hewn stone will be used to create a dramatic entry through a stone portal that emerges into a light, open space with a large smooth stone at the edge of the Tidal Basin. A likeness of King will be cut into a rock facing the Jefferson Memorial.

Adrian L. Wallace, director and president of the Washington, D.C., Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation Inc., says the design embodies King's spirit and the memorial will serve as "a place of peace, reflection and inspiration."

Bonnie Fisher, a landscape architect who worked on the winning design, says the memorial tries to build on the emotional experience that King evoked through his oratory. "It will be an experiential memorial," she says. "It is not a eulogy. It will leave the visitor with the possibility for positive social change. It is intended to be an uplifting and exciting experience."

Carson says that the central ideal of the memorial will honor not only King but other martyrs of the civil rights movement. Those commemorated will include four girls killed during a 1963 bombing of a church in Birmingham, Ala., and Medgar Evers, the civil rights leader from Mississippi who was murdered the same year.

An international panel of architects and designers selected ROMA's design. It is not known how much the memorial will cost, but clothing designer Tommy Hilfiger has pledged at least $5 million over the next three years. Fisher says groundbreaking must take place by 2003. The memorial will be the last one erected on the Mall. SR