Quotes without God on MLK memorial spark controversy

Martin Luther King Jr Memorial Aug 24 2011 on the National Mall in Washington DC Credit Tom LeGro PBS NewsHour CC BY NC 20 CNA US Catholic News 10 17 11 The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. | Tom LeGro-PBS NewsHour (CC BY-NC 2.0)

A new memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Washington, D.C. is drawing the attention of those who say that it disregards the civil rights leader’s deep faith in God. But his niece hopes that those who see the monument will be drawn to study his life and thus learn about his faith.

“Not to include any mention of 'God' in the quotes at the memorial is a betrayal of the life, legacy and teachings embraced and lived by Dr. King,” said Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition in Washington, D.C.

“I think he would have been stunned and disappointed to see this oversight.”

The memorial is located along the National Mall, in West Potomac Park between the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials.

Fourteen quotations from Dr. King’s writings and speeches are engraved into the memorial walls but none mention God or religion.

In an Oct. 16 statement, Rev. Mahoney explained said he recently visited the memorial for the first time.

“As I walked around the memorial, I was stunned and shocked to see that the mention of 'God' was not included in any of the quotes from Dr. King on the granite wall surrounding his sculpture,” he said.

“Dr. King was an ordained Christian minister and pastor who made faith in God and the teachings of Christ the central part of his life and message,” Rev. Mahoney said. “The heart of the civil rights movement was rooted in the church and drew its strength from the timeless truths proclaimed by God.”

“How is it possible to have a memorial dedicated to a Christian minister, who based his entire message on faith in God and the teachings of Christ and whose movement was founded in the church, and not include even one mention of God?”

The quotations were selected by a twelve-member “Council of Historians” that included author and poet Dr. Maya Angelou; executive editor of Ebony Magazine, Mr. Lerone Bennett, Jr.; and chair of the Department of African and African American Studies at Harvard University, Dr. Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham.

According to the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation’s website, the quotations were intended to “reflect King’s ideals of hope, democracy, and love, the three main themes of the memorial.”

Dr. Alveda King, niece of Martin Luther King, Jr. and director of African-American Outreach for Priests for Life, said that she does not believe references to God were “deliberately” excluded in an attempt to be politically correct.

“I believe it was their effort to be global and universal,” she told CNA on Oct. 16.

King said she did not think her uncle would be disappointed that the inscriptions did not include excerpts from any of his “many wonderful sermons.”

“Martin himself would not have desired a monument at all,” she said.

But if her uncle were alive, Alveda thought he would say, “Just remember that I served the Lord. Just remember that I loved Jesus Christ.”

“Of course he said many, many times that God is the center of the universe and the center of his life and the center of his joy,” she said.

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Alveda believes that when people visit the monument and see “little snippets” of his works, they will “want to know more about the man, his legacy and his message.”

When they look further, they will discover his faith and love of God, she suggested.

If people go looking for Martin Luther King’s full message at his memorial, they will not be able to find it, she said. Rather, if they look at the “hearts of those of us who love the Lord,” they will find it there.

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