The Water has Got to Flow: The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, San Francisco

Let justice roll down like water and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

~ Amos 5:24 from the Old Testament Bible

Yerba Buena Gardens is the name for two public parks in downtown San Francisco, just steps away from the famous San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial (hereafter, the MLK Memorial) is located there. It is a stunning structure that is set behind a waterfall, the largest fountain on the West Coast. It was built to honor black culture all over the world. But most of all, it was built to honor the man himself – Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929 – 1968) who was a Baptist minister, a social activist and the most visible spokesperson and leader of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 60s.

The monument was designed by the late African American artist, Houston Cornhill, who clearly invested it with a deep spirituality that one normally associates with a religious sanctuary. The centerpiece of the memorial is a 50-feet wide waterfall that invites visitors to step behind it into a cool and serene refuge, away from the cacophony of city noise.

On each side of the waterfall are words etched in granite, one of which is a Bible passage from Amos 5:24: “Let justice roll down like water and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Behind the waterfall are photos of Dr. King and quotes from his speeches etched in twelve glass panels and translated into the language of San Francisco’s thirteen city states, as well as Arabic and African dialects.

Early evening is a particularly good time to visit MLK. It is less crowded at this time of the day, and the evening sun bathes the place with a lovely golden glow. As you stand behind the waterfall and meditate on the words inscribed on the walls, you feel you’re in a sacred space, as if witnessing a baptism by immersion, the washing away of sins and the mighty roar of justice. As a visitor was quoted as saying, “this place reminds us that the water has got to flow, and never be cut off or damned up”.


This post is adapted from the essay, “Epic Power at the Stunning Martin Luther King Memorial” by Pamela Thomas-Graham. Source:

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