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Celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day All Year Long in DC

These only-in-DC experiences celebrate the Civil Rights leader year-round.

  • PRINT

On the third Monday of every January, Americans remember the legacy of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is the only federal holiday set aside to honor an individual American. The three-day weekend it creates, is the perfect time to visit Washington, DC and walk in the footsteps of King. Or, celebrate Dr. King all year long at these unique-to-DC venues that you simply can’t find in any other city:

1. Visit the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the National Mall, the first ever dedicated to a non-president and an African American. The memorial features a larger-than-life statue of King emerging out of the “mountain of despair” as a “stone of hope.” Surrounding King are various excerpts from his speeches engraved into a stone wall. On Jan. 20, visitors can observe a wreath-laying ceremony at the memorial between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m.

2. Walk down the Lincoln Memorial steps where Dr. King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963. A marker on the steps indicates the very place where King stood to address the thousands gathered around the Reflecting Pool. A wreath will be placed on the steps by the National Park Service on Jan. 17.

3. Stop by The Willard InterContinental Hotel where Dr. King finished writing his now-famous “I Have a Dream” speech in his suite the night prior. The Willard is one of the most historic hotels in the city and a great place to stop in for afternoon tea to soak it all in.

4. Visit Freedom Plaza, originally known as Western Plaza, located at the corner of 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW. The plaza was renamed in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. and remains a popular location for political protests. In 1988, a 500-pound aluminum time capsule containing a personal Bible, a Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech and other relics of King’s was planted at the site, to be reopened in 2088.

5. Grab a bite to eat at Ben’s Chili Bowl. Martin Luther King Jr. was a regular customer at “The Bowl” since it opened in 1958. The assassination of King led to the DC riots of 1968. As one of the few surviving businesses in the area, Ben’s remained open, providing food and shelter for activists and firefighters trying to restore order. Today, Ben’s is an iconic landmark of Washington, DC, and the best place to get a famous half-smoke.

6. Browse a collection of photographs, prints, paintings and memorabilia at “One Life: Martin Luther King, Jr”, a new exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery. The one-room installation, on view through June 1, traces King’s career, from his rise as the leader of the national civil rights movement to his work as an antiwar activist and advocate for those living in poverty.

Nighttime is a popular time to see Washingtonâs monuments and memorials. The white stones gleam against the dark sky, and visitors can take advantage of the relative quiet to contemplate lessons of history and leadership.
Nighttime is a popular time to see Washington’s monuments and memorials. The white stones gleam against the dark sky, and visitors can take advantage of the relative quiet to contemplate lessons of history and leadership. - Photo by Johnny Bivera
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