Officials and journalists watch as the Martin Luther King Jr. mural is lowered from the wall at the downtown DC library.
credit: Reginald Black

The Martin Luther King Jr. Library closed its doors in March for renovations. Among the significant objects in need of relocation was a painting that hung in the front area of the library. It depicted Martin Luther King, Jr., and snippets of the many marches and actions conducted by him and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference during the Civil Rights era. These were actions of the poor fighting for equality and justice for themselves.

The closing and remaking of this library branch is symbolic of big changes downtown and it leaves me wondering what will happen to those who live in those streets. Losing this building has moved the homeless community to the outskirts of the city to access services that had been offered at the library.

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In June, Mayor Muriel Bowser and others held a ceremony to remove this painting. She acknowledged that the renovation is a big investment and one that the city does not take lightly. World-class cities have world-class facilities like this one, Bowser said.

Also at the event was former mayor Anthony Williams. In his remarks he said that he thought a lot of his work and his successor’s work is really restoring respect for the city. He commented that our forefathers got a lot of things wrong, like slavery and secession, but one thing they got right is a vision for our city to be a collection of monuments — a living, breathing example of democracy. Williams noted that the renovation of the library is refurbishing the public realm. “We believe public ground — shared ground — is the higher ground,” he said.

The huge mural depicting the Civil Rights movement was one of the last things to go. The faces on that mural, representing those fighting for equality, will return when the new facility is complete, but we are left to wonder whether some of the faces among the displaced homeless community will return as well.

Everyone is anticipating the new state-of-the-art library. In the meantime those striving to strengthen and improve communities across the District will continue their valuable work.

Street Sense | Video by Reginald Black