The signs tell the story of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life with quotes and historical photos. The placards are positioned are on a concrete oval behind a statue of King that was part of the original monument.
The memorial is in a more secluded area of Delaney Park, designed to encourage reflection of King’s message. The display also pays homage to the Alaska Native civil rights movement, which began before statehood.
King’s statue faces east. The designers wanted King’s image to look towards the mountains, a metaphor in many of his speeches, including his last speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.”
The monument was also positioned to look towards the cultural events that take place on the park strip like Juneteenth, an African-American celebration.
One of the centerpieces of the Park Foundation’s renovation project is the new concrete wall which faces “L” Street.
On Monday, crews attached three granite panels to the monument. The centerpiece is a portrait of King etched into the stone.
Cal Williams, a longtime Anchorage civil rights activist, walked by as the stone panels were slid into place.
He stopped for a closer look and choked up with tears.
“Oh, shucks,” sighed Williams, who said he was overwhelmed by how realistic the image of King appears. Williams said he didn’t know the leader personally but had heard some of his speeches and even shaken his hand.
The wall, though much smaller, has the reflective quality of the Viet Nam memorial in Washington, D.C.
“When you look at it, it looks like you’re in it. Your reflection and you become part of this movement. Our movement,” said Williams.
Williams hopes the updated memorial will inspire an appreciation for King’s accomplishments in a new generation.
“I hope that young people will take advantage of the opportunities that this man made available to him,” said Williams.
As he looked at the picture display on the oval wall behind the statue, he pointed out a photo of the late M. Ashley Dickerson.
“This picture I love,” said Williams. “The first African-American attorney in the state.”
On Wednesday at noon, some of the original members of the “Martin Luther King, Jr. Living Memorial Committee” will be on hand for a ribbon cutting.
The new wall faces the busy traffic of “L” street for a reason, according to Rev. Alonzo Patterson who will be one of the speakers for the wall dedication.
“The new visibility of this memorial will raise the profile of Dr. King’s message in Anchorage. Drivers will think thoughts of peace and justice. Memorial visitors will have time to reflect on the brotherhood of man,” said Patterson in a statement.
Some of the funding for the project came from the state legislature as well as other donors. Nordlund, says as Park Foundation director, this has been one of her more enjoyable projects, because of the enthusiasm it has generated.
This is in sharp contrast with the memorial's history, which was built because of the lack of support for renaming 9th Avenue after King.
Lights have been installed in the new wall, so it will always be a shining beacon, even in the long darkness of an Alaskan winter.
Editor’s Note: See the photo gallery of the new interpretive signs and crews installing granite panels on the new wall.