Beliefnet News

An earthquake, then a hurricane complicated Washington, D.C.’s “Honoring Global Leaders for Peace” gala and the National Prayer Service leading up to Sunday’s dedication of the new national memorial to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Organizers shrugged off the back-to-back disasters, saying Dr. King’s life was filled with such “distractions” — then as 115-mph winds hit the East Coast, reluctantly postponed the dedication. There was concern that many who marched with Dr. King — some now elderly — would try to attend the event “come hell or high water.”

Friday and Saturday’s events were moved to different venues after earthquake damage at the original locations, the National Building Museum and the Washington National Cathedral. Saturday’s prayer service was relocated to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Harry Johnson Sr., president and CEO of the Washington, D.C., Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation, released a statement on the memorial’s website about the rare events that have occurred on the East Coast recently, likening them to the barriers that failed to deter Dr. King from his goals.

“Dr. King showed unshakeable strength against daily distractions on the way to reaching the dream,” Johnson wrote. “We look forward to honoring him and so many others starting this evening. We invite everyone to join us on the Mall on Sunday – come rain or shine.”

However, Saturday morning, as the hurricane came ashore in North Carolina and Virginia with winds blowing at speeds of up to 115 mph, Johnson became be concerned about Dr. King’s faithful braving the hurricane. He announced the dedication would be pushed back into September or October.

“The obvious reason why we’re making this announcement is to allow those folks who have not yet traveled here the opportunity not to come in harm’s way,” Johnson said. “We’re also offering up the opportunity for those who are here, that if they want to try to leave, they can leave before the weather gets bad on Saturday.”

Despite the advancing hurricane, King was remembered at Saturday’s prayer service as an irrepressible civil rights leader who triumphed over impossible odds.

“Everywhere he went, the mountain of despair was thrust upon him by the evils” of the world, said former United Nations ambassador Andrew Young during the event which had been moved to the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.

“You and I must become stones of hopes,” Young told the congregation.

Young was a top aide to King during the civil rights movement.

The 30-foot granite sculpture of the late civil rights leader opened to the public Monday. Groundbreaking took place in November 2006, and Sunday’s planned dedication was timed with the 48th anniversary of the March on Washington, where King delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech.

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