The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who fought the laws and spirit of segregation, may soon take his historical place alongside the most illustrious of U.S. presidents.
Organizers of a King memorial hope to break ground on the National Mall in November, placing the civil rights leader in the same class as Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. They are accelerating their efforts to raise enough money to begin construction and complete the project in 2008, the 40th anniversary of King’s death.
“We want to create a sense of urgency,” says Harry Johnson Sr., president of the Washington-based Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation.
On Monday, people across the nation will celebrate and remember the slain leader’s life. This year is the 20th anniversary of the federal holiday.
The memorial, to be located on 4 acres adjacent to the FDR memorial, will be midway between the Jefferson Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial where King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963. It will include waterfalls and a granite boulder from which an image of King emerges.
When built, the memorial will be the first on the Mall dedicated to a non-president and an African-American.
“It places King in the proper historical context. He is among the giants of our country, though he is neither a president nor a war hero,” says Johnson. The memorial will stand out among the nearby war memorials, he says. Noting King’s advocacy of non-violence, Johnson says: “He changed the world without firing a shot.”
The memorial “is tantamount to the recognition of the people who made the second American Revolution,” says Ron Walters, director of the African American Leadership Institute and a politics professor at the University of Maryland. “We’re beginning to get away from looking at Martin Luther King as just a black hero.”