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Alphas realize dream of MLK Memorial

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Posted: Thursday, August 25, 2011 12:10 am

On August 28, the 48th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial will become the first on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. to honor a person of color, a non-president and a man of peace. 

More than 250,000 people are expected to be on hand next Sunday when President Obama delivers the grand opening keynote speech.

More than a quarter-century in the making and at a cost of $120 million, the memorial promises to rekindle global interest in the life and legacy of one of the greatest champions of civil and human rights the world has ever known. In these times of rampant domestic and international turmoil and division, Dr. King’s message of justice, democracy, hope and love is needed more than ever.   

The MLK Memorial project was the brainchild of Alpha Phi Alpha, the world’s oldest intercollegiate fraternity founded by African-American men. Fraternity leaders conceived the idea in 1984, 16 years after Dr. King’s death and only months after President Reagan signed the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday into law. 

Dr. King himself was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha as were National Urban League legends Lester Granger and Whitney M. Young Jr., who were also colleagues and friends of Dr. King. I too am a proud Alpha Phi Alpha Brother.  

Since 2002, the massive fund-raising effort needed to bring the MLK Memorial project to fruition, has been led by former Alpha Phi Alpha President and Houston lawyer, Harry E. Johnson Sr. Under Johnson’s leadership, the Washington, DC Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation has raised more than $114 million from scores of corporate donors and thousands of citizens who want to ensure that Dr. King’s legacy endures.

Harry Johnson was just eight years old when Dr. King led the 1963 March on Washington, where he delivered one of the most well-known speeches in American history. He says that he owes much of his success as a lawyer and activist to the inspiration of Dr. King and the changes he brought about through non-violent action. 

A St. Louis native, Johnson is a graduate of Xavier University in New Orleans and received his law degree from Texas Southern University’s Thurgood Marshall School of Law. He served as president of Alpha Phi Alpha from 2001-2004, and for his leadership of the King Memorial project was awarded the prestigious “President’s Award” at January’s Trumpet Awards Gala in Atlanta.

Carved out of a granite boulder and situated on the Tidal Basin in a direct line between the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials, the MLK Memorial will be a fitting tribute to Dr. King. 

According to Harry Johnson, “Drawing from Dr. King’s speeches and using his own rich language, the King Memorial will be a public sanctuary where future generations of Americans, regardless of race, religion, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation can come to honor Dr. King.” 

We applaud Alpha Phi Alpha and Johnson for their leadership of this important project and urge all Americans to visit this historic new addition to the National Mall.

Morial is president and CEO of the National Urban League.

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