ORONO, Maine — For the past few months, Robert Dana, University of Maine vice president of student affairs, has looked out of his office window on to a construction site.
From his perch in the Memorial Union, Dana has watched as workers installed the Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King Memorial Plaza, which will be unveiled in a ceremony at 3 p.m. today.
The ceremony will include remarks from University of Maine faculty and staff members, performances by two artists, a dedication, and a reception and photo exhibit.
Dana said he believes the plaza is one of few sites on a Northeastern university campus to recognize the Kings. That the plaza is in Maine, he added, is significant because the state is one of the whitest in the nation, second only to Vermont.
“I don’t think there’s anything more important for students than to understand the history that is reflected in this plaza, the history of hate, violence, injustice and bigotry,” said Dana, who was on the plaza’s planning committee. “Secondarily, it brings to life, what [the students’] responsibility is for the future of the society.”
The plaza, which is located between the Union building and the area behind Stevens Hall, features granite blocks that have plaques bearing quotations from the Kings, benches, a wall with more quotations and a lot of green space.
There will be 10 quotations from the Kings around the plaza site. The words were taken from some of the key speeches and writing of the civil rights movement, including Martin Luther King Jr.’s April 16, 1963, “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” the famous “I Have a Dream” speech he gave Aug. 28, 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., and a Coretta Scott King speech from June 23, 1994.
Dana envisions the plaza as a site for young students on field trips from local schools, and college students who use the plaza for a break between classes.
“It’s such an embracing space,” he said. “It fills you with a sense of purpose and meaning. … You feel what [the Kings] were talking about.”
The plaza project cost $300,000, of which $200,000 was privately donated and $100,000 came from the university’s general fund. An additional $200,000 was spent on repairs to the site, which had been torn up several years ago when a steam line was replaced.
The work on the plaza all was done by Maine craftspeople using Maine materials such as Deer Isle granite and bricks from Brooks Brick Co. in Brewer.
The dedication ceremony will feature artists Kim Harris and David Roth, who will perform music from the civil rights movement and recite slave narratives.
University of Maine president Robert Kennedy, who first approached Dana two years ago about the possibility of some kind of historical monument that would give students a sense of responsibility, also will speak. Joe Perry, president of the local NAACP chapter, also is scheduled to talk.
Perry, along with 15 other people, served on the planning committee.
An exhibit of work by photographer Charles Moore, who was known for his photographs during the civil rights movement era of 1958-1965, also will be on display. The show includes photographs from seminal moments such as the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march and the 1963 funeral of assassinated activist Medgar Evers, which are on loan from UMaine new media professor William Kuykendall.
The photographs will be in the Bangor Room of the Memorial Union along with a post-ceremony reception.