Celebrations scheduled for Sunday to mark the opening of Martin Luther King, Jr's memorial on the National Mall are being threatened by Hurricane Irene, as it hurtles up the Atlantic.
Officials watching the storm now say it could threaten to postpone or delay the dedication ceremony. The storm, currently a Category 2, could reach landfall in the US by the end of the week.
But the skies were still blue over Washington today, as visitors streamed into the Martin Luther King Memorial as it opened to the public for the first time this week ahead of Sunday's dedication ceremony.
Nearly 50 years after his iconic "I Have a Dream" speech on the National Mall, MLK Jr's memorial is joining some of America's most influential figures carved in stone there -- Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.
"It feels like it's long overdue that a man who's contributed so much to the people of this country and to the world is finally getting his justice," said Jeri Green of Washington, who visited the memorial.
"At a time when African Americans are hurting so much by the economy and continued challenges, not withstanding having our first African American president, it's just so befitting and it's a mixture of emotions," Green said.
Inspiration for the design came from a line in King's "I Have a Dream" speech, which he delivered 48 years ago on the National Mall during the March on Washington: "Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope."
"King becomes the stone of hope, so it's designed to be that he himself, the man, the image of King emerges from that stone that comes from the mountain of despair," said Thomas Luebke, secretary of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, a federal design review agency.
Visitors can walk to the main memorial through the "Mountain of Despair," a large rock cut in two. At the center of the memorial stands the "Stone of Hope," with a statue of King on the far side, overlooking the Tidal Basin. Encircling the monument are marble walls on which 14 of King's most famous quotes from his speeches, sermons and writings are etched.
But missing from the quotes lining the memorial is his iconic "I Have a Dream" line. The architects say they chose to not include the line since so much of the memorial was already based on the speech, and they wanted to highlight his other celebrated passages.
The memorial was 15 years in the making, beginning with a resolution signed in 1996 by President Bill Clinton to establish a memorial "honoring the life, the dream and the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr." on the National Mall.
The ceremonial groundbreaking for the memorial took place on Nov. 13, 2006, and the dedication is scheduled for Sunday, the 48th anniversary of Dr. King's "I Have A Dream" speech, which he delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963.
Gloria Coles, a 73-year-old Washington native who took part in the March on Washington with her 13-year-old daughter, visited the memorial Monday to honor King's accomplishments.
"I did a lot of protesting at the monument when it was happening before, so I follow Dr. King, his history," Coles said. "This is history-making. The memorial itself, just to be here on these grounds, downtown here, means a lot. Didn't put it on the outskirts, put it right here where everybody else is."
While the memorial provides the public with a way to honor King's legacy, some controversy arose over the course of its construction.