When President Barack Obama looks west across the national mall from the Capitol on Monday, his panorama will include the spot to the right where contractors are building the National Museum of African American History and Culture by the foot of the Washington Monument.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial will be to his left, obscured from sight but not from mind.
And, directly in front of him — across a sea of people who come to hear his second inaugural address — Obama will have a view of the Lincoln Memorial, the Doric tribute to the president Obama most identifies with and the backdrop for King’s most famous civil rights speech.
As he takes the oath of office on the federal holiday marking King’s birthday, Obama will place his left hand on a bible once owned by King, an explicit consecration of the often implicit connection between the most prominent leader of the civil rights movement and the first black president.
The comparison between the two men will be inescapable Monday, as will the debate over Obama’s treatment of the black community — a motif that has resurfaced again early in his second term over diversity in the upper ranks of his administration.