by Priya Chhaya
With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.
–Martin Luther King, Jr.
Earlier this month I attended a sneak peek of the new memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr. located in Washington, D.C. next to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. The quotation at the top of the blog frames the memorial—we walk through a split granite boulder (symbolizing the mountains of despair) before reaching the 30 foot granite sculpture-a solid figure who symbolized hope for many. Situated between Jefferson and Lincoln along the Tidal Basin, the memorial represents not just MLK’s work during the Civil Rights movement, but also his broader struggle for worldwide human rights. One of the members of the internationally composed jury for this new memorial was Charles Correa known for his work on the Mahatma Gandhi memorial in Ahmadabad and the design for Navi Mumbai—a new section of Mumbai that is best described as a planned city. Gandhi influences Martin Luther King, and so it is fitting that one of the judges for a monument—one that is meant to be international in scope—is someone with an understanding of Gandhi.
As a high school student I looked to the Civil Rights movement as a moment to question my own gumption. Would I be able to stand up and protest injustice? Could I practice civil disobedience or the Indian counterpart satyagraha (the peaceful demonstrations inspired by the words and actions of Gandhi) if needed?
I also wondered about that first wave of South Asian immigrants in the 1950s. Those that came amidst this intense transformation of American identity. How did they feel? What did they think? What stories can they tell about becoming Americans?
So—this is my charge for the readers of HomeSpun. I would like to interview someone who emigrated from South Asia in the 1950s, or their descendant, that can speak to life during the Civil Rights movement. The interview(s) will be incorporated in a blog post later this summer. Please let us know if you are interested in the comments below.
Seeing the MLK memorial reminded me once again that history does have something to teach us—and that gaining equality is a constant struggle, something to be fought for and affirmed—so that the dream continues to be realized.
Note: The dedication of the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial will be on August 28, 2011.
Priya Chhaya is a public historian that works with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. She sees history wherever she goes and believes that it is an important part of the American (and Indian American) identity.