Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Guide
This post is a guide to the Martin Luther King, Jr (MLK) Memorial in Washington, DC.
We provide tips on planning your visit as well as a self-guided and video walkthrough of the memorial to help explain its design concepts.
Let’s get started!
The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial is Washington D.C.’s newest monument and the nation’s first to honor an African- American man.
It is located at 1964 Independence Ave SW, an address that represents the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and sits along the Tidal Basin.
It features a 30-foot (9m) tall granite relief of Dr. King carved into a large stone along with walls of some of his famous quotes.
The statue was carved by Chinese sculptor Lei Yixin and the memorial as a whole was designed by Marshall Purnell. It was built between 2009 and 2011.
There is also a memorial gift shop and book store with a small visitor center + restrooms and water fountains.
PLAN YOUR VISIT
The MLK Memorial is open 24 hours a day and National Park Service Rangers are on duty every day from 9:30 am until 11:30 pm (23:50) (except for Christmas Day) to answer questions.
This is a stunning memorial to visit at night and is a stop on our Memorials and Moonlight tour. It is beautifully lit and a safe area to visit at night.
The memorial book shop and gift store is open daily from 9:00 am until 6 pm (18:00).
The bookshop is located across the street in the same building as the bathrooms and the Ranger Station.
Rangers also provide interpretive programs every hour on the hour from 10:00 am to 11 pm (23:00).
How to Get Here
The Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial is located on the west shore of the Tidal Basin, at 1964 Independence Ave SW, between the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and the National Mall (map).
Due to its location, you might find it beneficial to also plan to visit other memorials that are adjacent or nearby, such as:
- World War 2 Memorial
- Thomas Jefferson Memorial
- FDR Memorial
- Lincoln Memorial
- Korean War Veterans Memorial
- Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Be sure to read our guide to all memorials and monuments in Washington, DC.
The nearest Metro subway station is the Smithsonian Metro Station and can be accessed by the BLUE, ORANGE, OR SILVER Metro lines.
You will need to walk for approximately 20 minutes, or 1 mile, to reach the memorial.
We recommend taking advantage of the Circulator Bus’s National Mall route, which you can hop onto at the Smithsonian Station.
The Circulator is a free bus option that makes a stop right in front of the MLK Memorial.
Alternatively, if you are considering purchasing a hop-on-hop-off bus ticket, keep in mind that all tours make a stop at the memorial.
Parking can be found along Ohio Drive, just to the west of the MLK Memorial and south of the Lincoln Memorial.
Additional parking is located behind the Jefferson Memorial along Ohio Drive, in parking lots A, B, and C.
During peak tourism seasons, parking is very limited, but if you are patient, you will find spots here.
There are a few commercial parking facilities in the area. You can pay online ahead of time for a guaranteed space with SpotHero.
To reserve your parking spot, visit the National Mall SpotHero Parking Page, and book a spot with rates up to 50% off drive-up.
New to SpotHero? Click here to download the SpotHero app.
The Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial is fully handicap accessible.
There is a vehicular drop-off point on West Basin Drive and wheelchairs can be borrowed from the visitor’s center/bookstore near the entrance.
Bathrooms are located across West Basin Drive in the same building as the bookstore and Ranger Station.
MLK Memorial Design
There are many overt as well as hidden symbolism contained within the memorial as a whole.
Technically speaking, there is no statue at the MLK Memorial.
Rather, the centerpiece of the memorial is a 30′ (9 m) tall stone block with an unfinished likeness of Martin Luther King, Jr emerging from its southern side.
Although there are no quotes from Dr. King’s famous ‘I have a dream’ speech, this centerpiece alludes to a powerful analogy that he used in the speech to describe the importance of faith in the struggle for civil rights, that
“With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.”
NOTE: There is an inscribed stone at the Lincoln Memorial with the words “I Have a Dream”
The memorial’s designers intended that the visitor would walk through the mountain of despair to the stone of hope.
The memorial’s stone of hope appears to be quarried (hewed) from a larger stone, a slow a laborious process, much like the process to end racial segregation and discrimination in the U.S.
The stone has been pushed forward, symbolizing the forward progress in the achievement of civil rights in America.
The likeness of MLK is unfinished, just as his life was tragically cut short at just 39 years of age, and just as the movement for civil rights he helped lead is unfinished today.
King is looking south toward the horizon, paper, possibly a speech or sermon in hand, in a defiant pose, symbolizing his defiance of injustice.
The other major element of the memorial is the long arched wall filled with quotations from King’s speeches and sermons.
The arched wall alludes to a sermon he delivered at the Sermon at Temple Israel of Hollywood on February 25, 1965.
In this speech, he described his confidence in the ultimate triumph of the civil rights movement in the struggle for human dignity.
“And I believe it because somehow the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”
The wall contains quotes from the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955 to King’s final Sunday sermon, which took place at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, DC on March 31, 1968, just days before his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee.
The quotes are not listed in chronological order, designed so that the visitor can explore the memorial at his or her own pace and direction.
Other Interesting Facts About the MLK Memorial’s Symbolism
The 30′ height of the Stone of Hope far exceeds the customary limit of 19.5′ for statues in Washington, DC.
However, the figure of MLK is a relief (similar to the presidential images on Mt. Rushmore), and thus not considered a statue.
Both the stone and the sculptor, Lei Yixin, were ‘imported’ from China. There were prominent voices that felt the sculptor should have been an American.
The Memorial’s board, comprised mainly of African American architects, sculptors and drafters, stated that they based their decision on the content of the sculptor’s talent and not on his skin color or nationality, something they felt the Dr. King would have sanctioned.
Just about every sightseeing tour in Washington, DC makes a stop at the MLK Memorial, including us, DC by Foot.
The memorial is a stop on 2 of our most popular walking tours.
- Daily National Mall Tours
- National Mall and Tidal Basin Tours
National Park Ranger Talks
Park Rangers, as well as volunteers, provide daily “interpretive programs” on the hour every hour from 10 a.m. until 11:00 pm (23:00). These talks are free.
- List of DC Monuments and Memorials
- Guide to the National Mall
- Top DC Attractions
- Other Things to Do in DC