Construction begins on King National Memorial at the Mall

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by Karen Brundidge
For New Pittsburgh Courier

(NNPA)—For 13 years, Ed Jackson has been steeped in a struggle to make a dream come true. He is chief architect for the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the northeast side of the Tidal Basin lining up with the Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson memorials.

President Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. President Lincoln saved the Union and signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Scholars credit King with providing the road map for all Americans to realize the ideals of equality and justice.

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MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. MEMORIAL

“For me, I am still holding my breath, Jackson said. “I can’t exhale until we have the final dedication.”

The memorial, scheduled to open next year, would be the first to honor a Black man on the National Mall. It will cost $120 million, only $13 million of which remains to be raised.

“We hope people continue to help support the memorial to complete the dream,” said Dina Curtis, director of the memorial project. Anyone can make a donation by going to http://www.buildthedream.org or calling 1-888-4-THE-DREAM.

It’s a dream 26-year-old D.C. resident Ebony Jackson has also been waiting for. Jackson is an employee of a tourist shop near the site of the King memorial. She knows that many civil rights icons contributed to the movement, but she is glad that Dr. King is having his statue built where every American and tourist can see it.

“Now kids will say I’ve seen Jefferson, Lincoln, and now we finally get to see Dr. Martin Luther King,” Jackson said. “I am excited that he will have a place on the mall.”

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MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. STATUE

People working on the project are excited, too, anticipating that this will bring people together even more.

“I think the memorial is significant. It says that Dr. King belongs to us all; he advocated nonviolence to achieve social change. And that affects all cultures and all people,” said Dina Curtis, among the project workers.

Preparation for construction began just before Christmas, but a wooden fence blocking off the construction trailers on Independence Avenue is the only sign that construction has began. In the next few weeks, people driving by can expect to see big earth zoning equipment, cement, and to hear the familiar sounds of bulldozers going to work.

When finished, the three-acre memorial will feature a 28-foot-tall statue of King with his arms folded across his chest. According to the memorial project’s website, natural elements such as water, stone and trees are used to underscore the themes of justice, democracy, and hope. Large majestic trees like pine, oak and magnolias will exhibit seasonal change and annual growth.

It was about 20 years ago when six men were sitting around a kitchen table in Silver Spring, Md., discussing the possibility of a memorial the civil rights icon. These men were members of Alpha Phi Alpha and they thought that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who belonged to the same fraternity, should have a revered place on the National Mall, just as he did in history.

They headed to Capitol Hill to try to lobby legislators to support their idea. In 1996, Congress passed a bill authorizing a King monument on the Mall. The National Capital Planning Committee approved the site in 1999. But it took the memorial foundation 13 years of intense fundraising effort to raise most of the $130 million needed to construct the memorial and to break ground.

Last weekend, several young people braved sub-zero temperatures at the Mall to peek at the site where their hero will be in majestic display a year from now. They were touched, they said.

Fifteen-year-old Charles Hall said he would work hard to fight stereotypes of young Black youths. He wants to keep the legacy alive by focusing on education.

“I’ve been staying on top on my grades to make sure that I don’t kill the dream,” he said.

On Jan. 18, metro D.C. honored the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in a variety of ways, including a “day on,” instead of a “day off.” Many volunteered and worked in their communities, instead of just sitting at home watching television or playing video games. Volunteerism on MLK day is the appropriate spirit of the day, they said.

“We all need each other, and it shows the patriotism, love, and appreciation for him,” said 35-year-old Amadu Cham from Maryland. “It is not about one race over another. We are all brothers and sisters. We are all one people.”

(Special to the NNPA from the District Chronicles.)

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