Martin Luther King Memorial in Yerba Buena Gardens Essay
Situated on the corner of 4th St. and Mission St., in downtown San Francisco is Yerba Buena Gardens. Sounds from the hustle and bustle of cars driving and people walking permeate Yerba Buena Gardens, except in one particular location. In one corner of the gardens stands a Martin Luther King Jr. memorial. The memorial is breathtakingly beautiful with a fifty foot high and twenty foot wide waterfall that falls over Sierra granite. In the Memorial’s hallway, visitors read quotes from Dr. King himself that are engraved on glass panels and set in granite. The physical beauty of the memorial is undeniable, however many people are not aware of the symbolism lying beneath the memorial’s surface. The memorial’s waterfall symbolizes the realization of Dr. King’s dreams the realization of Dr. King’s dream, the tears shed by millions and of the voices of African Americas
The memorial also reminds us of the oppressed African Americans whose voices were drowned out ignored; yet, it is apparent that society was pushed backwards in the race to equality with the mandatory evacuation of thousands of people due to the development of the Yerba Buena Gardens. King Jr. dreamt that all human beings, regardless of skin color, will one day be able to live in a completely free, just, and non-discriminatory society. It was his dream of an equal society that pushed Martin Luther King Jr. to become an advocate for universal suffrage. Even though the United States already had universal suffrage, unfair literacy tests and poll taxes plagued the voting process and disqualified nearly all impoverished African
Americans from voting 1. King wanted a colorblind society; a society where all human beings are treated equally and respectfully and given the same personal liberties and political freedom. Martin Luther King argued, in his “I Have a Dream” speech, that “we are not satisfied until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream” 2. This quote from Dr. King’s speech is inscribed on the right end wall of the memorial. After reading the final inscribed quote, it is apparent that the purpose of the waterfall is to signify the realization of Martin Luther King’s dream of a just society. Justice , The United States Martin Luther King’s dream of justice in today’s society; a monumental victory of justice over prejudice. It is so easy to forget about what it took for America to become a truly free and nondiscriminatory nation. The mists are a necessary reminder for people in today’s society that personal liberty and political freedom should never be taken for granted.
Though Yerba Buena Gardens is situated in downtown San Francisco, a busy city filled with loud noises, the memorial itself is peculiarly quiet and calm. The memorial’s serenity is due to the overpowering, yet surprisingly tranquil sound of the rushing water from the waterfall. The power of the waterfall to drown out all exterior noise is phenomenal. It is impossible to even hear what someone is saying when they are right next to you. Visitors try to overcome the sound of the rushing water by screaming or whistling, but are unsuccessful. Independent from life’s distractions, visitors are given the opportunity to absorb all that the memorial and Dr. King’s words have to offer. Visitors can take this time to self-reflect and to appreciate the efforts of earlier generations fighting for equality during our nation’s infancy. The undeniable strength of the waterfall’s sound to obscure all external noise makes Being incapable of expressing feelings or thoughts leaves an unfamiliar and dreadful sensation. People living in today’s society are usually ignorant to this unfamiliar, almost claustrophobic feeling of screaming at the top of your lungs without a single person acknowledging your frustrations.
During our nation’s history, however, nearly all African Americans struggled with this same frustration. Helpless against the white minority, blacks throughout history struggled to get their concerns addressed and their votes counted. The visitor’s inability to communicate vocally is short-lived and fortunately, only lasts as long as it takes for the person to walk through the memorial. African Americans, however, were plagued with powerlessness for hundreds of years. Martin Luther King Jr. felt obliged to provide a voice for all African Americans stripped of the right to do so on their own. Due to the hard work of Martin Luther King, civil rights leaders and activists, and President Johnson, on August 6, 1965 the Voting Rights Act was signed into law, which banned the use of literacy tests and also required stricter monitoring of the use of poll taxes in state and local elections” 3. Finally, the time had come when African Americans could voice their opinions and have them be heard, and vote for the political constituent whom carried similar beliefs and morals. The development of the Yerba Buena Gardens, as part of the “Urban Renewal Project” was not always considered to be something positive and beneficial.
During the 1950’s, city planners forced thousands of people living in the South of Market area out of their homes, arguing that the area was “dangerous ‘Skid Row’ ripe for redevelopment, populated by “bums” and “transients” whose fate mattered little” 4. City planners left out the important fact that many people who lived in this area were elderly and poor and had “little defense against the federal bulldozer” 5. The city did try and relocate as many people as possible, but only had 276 units of new housing to replace thousands of demolished units. Thousands were left homeless and kicked out of possibly the only home they have ever known and will ever know, due to lack of job skills needed to find employment. The irony of placing a Martin Luther King Jr. memorial, a man who advocated for equality and justice until his assassination, on land where thousands of impoverished people were evicted just a couple years earlier, is almost too horrific to comprehend.
The hypocrisy in the decision to place this memorial at the Yerba Buena Gardens is undeniable and unforgiveable. The memorial’s waterfall is a reminder of the relentless adversity that plagued millions of blacks for thousands of years and the tears they shed. The waterfall also symbolizes the realization of Dr. King’s dream. The eviction methods used during the Urban Renewal period to obtain the land where the memorial sits were ethically questionable, however it is still important to visit this monument from time to time. The memorial stands there in the middle of Yerba Buena Gardens, in the middle of downtown San Francisco, as a silent, yet constant reminder to never take anything for granted and to always remember the blood, sweat, and tears shed by millions in order for people today to enjoy and exercise the complete personal liberty and political freedom that we are so fortunately blessed with.
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