New Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Honors Alaska Native Cultures
Until recently, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in downtown Anchorage was a despondent-looking counterpoint to the Veteran's Memorial at the other end of the same block on the downtown Delaney Park Strip in Anchorage, Alaska. The memorial was installed in 1999 after a coordinated effort by the city's African American churches and their friends throughout the community. That effort, spearheaded by local pastor Reverend Alonzo Patterson, was part of an extended effort to honor the civil rights leader in Anchorage. The centerpiece of the original installation was a bust of King facing into the park backed by a memorial garden surrounded by interpretive panels featuring King's life and tributes to the city’s cultural diversity. However, without needed maintenance, the panels were weathered and vandalized, their message obscured by time and neglect. On June 20, members of the original Martin Luther King Living Memorial Committee and other supporters came together to rededicate the monument's expansion and renovation. New interpretive panels have been installed and the memorial has been expanded with additional walkways and an image of King facing a nearby street, enhancing the visibility of the memorial. This new image of King is on reflective granite reminiscent of the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial in Washington, D.C. The new historic panels clearly feature quotes and images from a variety of cultures weaving them into tributes to moments of King's life, with Alaska Native culture being the dominant thread.
Among the quotes and images derived from Native culture is a tribute to Alaska's own civil rights heroine, Elizabeth Peratrovich, Tlingit. In 1945, Peratrovich played a significant role in the passage of one of the first pieces of civil rights legislation in the country. Alaska Territory's nondiscrimination measure passed after an inspired speech by Peratrovich from the viewers' balcony of the legislative chamber during a lively debate. Images significant to Alaska's Native cultures and histories include a seal hunt, a traditional blanket toss, and a drum group. Other panels include significant quotes from Alaska Native leaders. Rev. Patterson says the inclusion of many cultures in the memorial demonstrates that the work of King and others in the struggle for civil rights is important to all cultures and races. Artist Jerome Meadows was asked to search for imagery and quotes that would bring this awareness to the center of the memorial. Supporters are assured that the memorial will not suffer the same neglect as in the past. John Rodda, the city's arts and recreation director said the city and the committee have a new understanding of how to maintain the memorial. “The efforts of so many could not be supported by just one [entity],” Rodda said. Rodda said the city will be maintaining the grounds and coordinating with the Living Memorial Committee for any further changes or additions to the memorial. Now future generations of Alaska will be seeing the beauty and the message of justice and civil rights at the Martin Luther King Living Memorial for years to come.