As the nation marks the 40th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, St. Louisan Harry E. Johnson Sr. is leading a national charge to memorialize the famed civil rights leader.
Johnson is president of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation, which is raising $100 million toward the construction of a new King monument in Washington, D.C. The memorial, including 30-foot elements to be sculpted by master artist Lei Yixin, is slated for a four-acre site along the Tidal Basin between the Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson memorials. Work on the project is scheduled to begin this year and be complete by 2010. The overall layout of the monument is the brainchild of the San Francisco-based ROMA Design Group, whose concept was chosen out of 990 entries from 52 countries.
Johnson was in St. Louis in early April to raise awareness for the project and encourage donorship from individuals and companies in his home state. He said more than $93 million has been raised to date, and there are plans to host a 300-person, fund-raising “Dream Dinner” in St. Louis to augment that total this year. Kuoni Events’ St. Louis office, headed by Pat Schaumann, is helping the foundation organize these fund-raising efforts.
According to Johnson, the foundation expects to approach Missouri Governor Matt Blunt and St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay about drumming up state and local support for the project, mirroring fund-raising efforts already launched by cities such as Denver.
He said the memorial will consist of various elements representing King’s words and beliefs, including a “Mountain of Despair,” as well as a “Stone of Hope” with an image of a pensive King emerging from carved granite. Other areas of the monument will highlight quotations from the civil rights pioneer’s speeches. There will be assembly areas for groups as well as a visitors’ center, bookstore, research kiosks and comfort stations.
The memorial is expected to become a tourist destination, meeting site and gathering space as iconic as the man it will honor, according to Johnson.
“Once the memorial is complete, the National Mall will be diversified to look like America,” he said. “It will kindle the belief that each city is part of a larger community, a mosaic of all nationalities and races.”
To learn more about the project, visit www.buildthedream.org.