Saturday will mark the 47th anniversary of the historic March on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his powerful “I Have a Dream” speech. Dr. King’s message of equality, unity, democracy and tolerance lured men and women from across the nation from different racial, ethnic and economic backgrounds. They came for a healing and for hope.
Aug. 28, 1963, was a great day for all Americans, one that subsequently resulted in the passage of two pieces of legislation – the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 – that dramatically improved the social and political landscape for African Americans and provided civil rights proponents legal recourse to fight institutionalized racism.
For the last nine years, I have been leading an effort by the Washington, DC Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation Inc. to build a memorial on the National Mall to honor Dr. King’s contributions to the world community through non-violent social change. The 4-acre memorial will serve as a lasting tribute to the ideals of democracy, justice, hope and love for which Dr. King stood. (The Foundation was created by Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity.)
I have been looking forward to announcing on the anniversary this year that the memorial is 45 percent complete and that we are $13 million away from our fund-raising goal of $120 million. Once the memorial is finished, Dr. King will be the only non-president, non-war hero to be honored on Washington’s National Mall.
Monuments and memorials are symbolic of battles fought and won of leaders who were triumphant or who, like Dr. King, were martyred before their mission was completed. Colin Powell often says that while he and other heroes were fighting the Vietnam War, there was another war…the Civil Rights war, which was being heading by a General named Dr. Martin Luther King. King fought his war and won using the weapon of non-violence.
For my staff and me, building the memorial has been a long but gratifying journey. The magnitude of Dr. King’s words, his commitment to non-violent social change and his message of unity were monumental. His message is timeless and worthy of reflection not just on anniversaries but every day.
It is not for me to say whether Dr. King’s dream needs to be reclaimed or restored; it just needs to be completed. With that said, so does the monument to this Nobel Prize-winning man of peace. The progress we have made thus far has been as a result of generous giving by corporations and contributions, both large and small, from ordinary citizens who embrace Dr. King’s legacy. Those donations of $5, $10, and $20 do add up over time.
Often when asked who should pay for the Memorial in honor of Dr. King, some say the government some say wealthy individuals and some say corporations. I say anyone who ever benefited from anything Dr. King said or did….my friends that includes all of us.
The years are adding up too. Forty-seven years have passed since Dr. King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and said, “We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now.” Americans continue to live in a time of urgency. People can say and do what they want. But in my view we should always espouse to have a climate of unity, tolerance and equality to carry on Dr. King’s legacy.
Harry E. Johnson Sr. is the president and CEO, Washington, DC Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation, Inc. for more information about the memorial, visit, www.buildthedream.org