Tune in to CNN on Sunday morning at 9 ET for live coverage and the unveiling of the memorial paying tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the 48th anniversary of the March on Washington and his historic "I Have a Dream" speech. Sunday night at 8 ET, coverage continues with a special look at King's writings, in the CNN documentary "MLK Papers: Words That Changed a Nation."
Washington (CNN) -- The morning sun that came up over Washington's Tidal Basin on Monday illuminated a new memorial opening to the public for the first time: a plaza and statue honoring the late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
President Barack Obama is scheduled to dedicate the site on Sunday, but the media and visitors were allowed to take part in a "soft" preview as construction crews complete their final touches.
"I feel like I'm standing on holy ground," said Donnie Simons, nearly overcome with emotion at the sight of the granite portrayal of King.
The D.C. resident told CNN, "What Dr. King means to me and this world, and the things that he stood for, for us to give him this kind of commemoration, for my kids and my grandkids, they're going to be able to stand here and see this as well."
Another visitor, who drove up from Atlanta for the preview, told CNN the memorial is "breathtaking," in how the 30-foot tall sculpture faces the Tidal Basin, overlooking the water in front of the Jefferson Memorial.
"It's an emotional response," said Erica Nicole Griffin, "but it's also a sense of 'wow, this is finally happening.'"
The early visitors represented a variety of ethnic backgrounds. "I would have expected that," said Wayne Cunningham of California, on a family vacation to the nation's capital, "because I think he's a symbol of not just the blacks but all cultures and all races."
Groundbreaking took place in November 2006, and the dedication on Sunday is timed with the 48th anniversary of the March on Washington, where King delivered his historic speech, "I Have a Dream."