Out of the Mountain of Despair, a Stone of Hope

by Chief of Naval Personnel Public Affairs
U.S. Navy

WASHINGTON (NNS) -- Dr. Ed Jackson, executive architect for the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., National Memorial Project Foundation in Washington, D.C., spoke at the Chief of Naval Personnel’s special observance in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Jan. 17.

Jackson relayed his role in the development of the memorial and how it all started one day in 1963 when he was 14 years old.

“It was a hot summer’s day in August during the hottest time of the year, or at least that’s what it felt like,” said Jackson. He stepped outside his home in McComb, Miss. to speak with his neighbors about Martin Luther King, Jr. traveling to Washington, D.C. They asked him if he wanted to make the more than 1,000-mile drive with them to hear King speak.

“I wanted to go,” said Jackson, “but knew I would have to ask my mother for permission.”

Although Jackson’s mother said no, that it was too dangerous to travel across the South, she did encourage him to contribute to King’s cause in a different, safer way.

Jackson said that he knew his mother saw the disappointment in his face, so she said, “Look, continue to do well in your education and you’ll have an opportunity to contribute to what Dr. King’s dream is all about.”

Jackson followed his mother’s advice and never lost sight of his own dream. He set out to become an architect and upon graduation, received an offer from the surgeon general’s office in Washington, D.C. to design hospitals for the U.S. Army.

“I spent my entire military career associated with the U.S. Army Health Facility Planning Agency,” said Dr. Jackson. “While I was in Seoul, South Korea, the dental commander, who was a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, asked me if I was a member, which I was not, so he and encouraged me to join, stating ‘In order for you to make a contribution to your community and your nation, you need to be part of something larger than yourself.’”

Although Jackson thought he was already a part of the largest fraternity in the nation—the U.S. Army—in March 1996, he became a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, the same fraternity as King.

“In November of 1996, Congress authorized the fraternity to establish the King Memorial, and the fraternity asked me to take the lead in coming up with the design. About 30 years later my mother’s premonition came to fruition.”

Jackson wanted the memorial to reflect King’s dreams for America and the nation’s dedication to serve and protect the rights of others.

“As we launched an international design competition, we were not looking for a particular design, we were looking for a construct,” said Jackson. “We were looking for an idea that the memorial could be designed around. A total of 1,400 registrants from 52 countries submitted more than 900 [design draft] boards to help find the needle in the hay stack. One design emerged out of a set of boards from the architectural firm, ROMA Design Group. The boards said in essence; taking from the “I have a dream” speech: “Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”

The planning and construction of the memorial took more than 15 years and it was officially dedicated on Aug. 28, 2011.

“The memorial is as much about America as it is about Dr. King,” said Jackson. “The memorial speaks to the spirit of America, about who we are as a people, about how far we have come as a nation, about what we hold sacred, about what we believe in and about what we are willing to die for in order to preserve and protect the freedom, democracy, justice and liberty we possess as citizens of this great country. It was hope that the memorial could somehow speak literally and metaphorically to future generations about the importance of peace, justice, democracy, hope and love.”

At the National Labor Leadership Assembly for Peace in November 1967, King said, “A genuine leader is not a searcher of consensus but a molder of consensus.” Those words inspired Jackson to follow through with his accomplishments and overcome any obstacle that came his way.

“My job was to accomplish the goal by whatever means necessary,” said Jackson. “Sometimes you have to be a politician; other times you have to be an educator; sometimes you have to be a leader like a soldier, who has command and control…my military experience is what gave me the skill set to bring about this particular project.”

King, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for his efforts to create equality for all of mankind, is known as one of the most influential civil rights activists in American history. He is most well-known for his campaigns to end racial segregation on public transportation and for racial equality in the U.S.

Dr. Martin Luther King Day is a federal holiday held on the third Monday of January every year. The holiday is a day of honor and commemorative events are held throughout the U.S. to pay tribute to a man who paid the ultimate price for promoting civil rights. In 1994, to further commemorate a man who lived his life in service to others, Congress transformed the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday into a national day of community service.

King is the only non-president to have a national holiday dedicated in his honor. He is also the only non-president or war hero to be honored in the National Mall at the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.

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