WASHINGTON (AP) — As the rain stopped falling and the winds died down, 43 boys from Cleveland formed a circle Sunday around the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and joined hands at the hour it was supposed to be dedicated by President Barack Obama.
Each wore a black T-shirt that read “Who’s Next?” On the back, the names of Mahatma Gandhi, King and Obama were checked off. And the answer? “I Am.”
On the 48th anniversary of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, as Hurricane Irene forced the postponement of the memorial’s dedication, dozens of people streamed through to see King’s statue.
The National Park Service had cleared the plaza of downed branches and leaves.
Many visitors ventured out, even though traffic lights in the area were dark with no power. Many had planned to be among 250,000 expected at the memorial’s dedication, which was postponed until September or October.
“At first, we were very disappointed,” Renee Cavor, an official with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, said of the cancellation after she brought her students to see the memorial to help inspire them to finish school. “However, it’s almost as if things have worked out for the better because we never would have gotten this close.”
When Theo Hike, 16, a student at Cleveland’s Martin Luther King Jr. Career Campus heard the dedication was canceled during their bus trip from Ohio, he wondered, “Why are we going, then?” But he said he was glad they didn’t turn back.
“I feel like crying, but I don’t want to,” said Jeffrey Tyler, 16, a student at Cleveland’s Lincoln West High School. “To see a black man up there, it made me feel really proud of myself.”
Organizers who built the memorial and planned its dedication waited until Thursday night to announce the postponement. By Sunday afternoon, the sun was shining again. Harry Johnson, president of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Foundation, said had no regrets.
“You can’t play with Mother Nature,” he said. “I knew today was going to clear up, but what we didn’t know was what kind of damage, if any, we were going to sustain and more importantly, the lives that could have been in danger.”
The memorial took on a small amount of water from the Tidal Basin during the storm, but sustained no damage, according to the National Park Service. The National Mall and other national parks in the Washington region came through unscathed, said spokesman Bill Line. There was no additional damage to the Washington Monument, he said. Several cracks formed in the top of the monument during Tuesday’s 5.8-magnitude earthquake.
Robert and Yolanda Chapman of San Antonio, Texas, brought their 6-year-old son, Benjamin, to see the memorial after the hurricane passed, even though they had been to other dedication events in recent days. They wanted to have a closer look when the memorial was less crowded and take pictures to show Benjamin’s classmates.
Yolanda Chapman said it’s an honor for King regardless of the ceremony.
“This man worked hard and fought for our rights. I think he would be proud to know that we truly appreciate it,” she said. “It’s still remembering what he did for us.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)