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A monument to Martin Luther King on Washington, D.C.’s National Mall is on pace for an Aug. 28 unveiling, project organizers said at a Dec. 1 preview event.

King’s monument will be the first on the Mall dedicated to a man of peace, and someone who did not serve as president.

“The memorial will forever change the National Mall,” said Harry E. Johnson, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C. Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation. “When future generations visit Washington, they will see a mall that is more closely reflecting the diversity of our great nation.”

The idea for the memorial was originated by Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, a Black Greek organization that King was a member. Ten years ago, the memorial foundation was created and received broad support from a number of companies and businesses including General Motors, the National Basketball Association and the Tommy Hilfiger Corporate Foundation.

So far the project has raised $108 million of the $120 million needed for completion.

“We don’t even think about, ‘we’re not going to get $120 ,’” Johnson said. “We’re positive thinking folk around here. We’re going to get $120 .”

The memorial site is at the western end of the Mall, between the Franklin Roosevelt Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial. As visitors walk into the center of the memorial they will walk through the “Mountain of Despair,” two stone-like structures on both sides, into the “Stone of Hope” which will be 30 feet high and 12 feet wide.

The monument will also have a granite wall inscribed with quotes from King speeches, intended to make the project a “living memorial.”

“We didn’t want it to be a monument; a cornerstone of something that happened sometime in history,” said Ed Jackson Jr., executive architect of the project. “It had to be a living memorial…we wanted the memorial to capture the essence of his message.”

Jackson also said that he wanted the memorial to embrace the concept of life with the planting of 185 new cherry blossom trees at the site.

The project hasn’t been without controversy, however. Local union officials have criticized the project for not using local American laborers instead of a small number of Chinese workers. The prevailing wage in this region for a stonemason is about $60,000 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Johnson said that American workers are doing 95 percent of the work, and the only work that isn’t being done by Americans is that being done by craftsmen working with Master Lei Yixin the sculptor of record on the project.

“The Foundation sought and received permission to bring 10 Chinese craftsmen to join the total workforce of over 100 American workers, largely because the Chinese craftsmen are the same who worked with Master Lei to complete the commissioned artwork that we now call the Mountain of Despair and Stone of Hope,” Johnson said in statement

Photos by John Moore


George Barnette

Special to the AFRO