- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 14, 2007

Financial gifts from three corporations to be announced today will bring the fund to build a memorial to Martin Luther King to $76 million — more than three-quarters of the way to the project’s goal.

Health insurance provider Cigna Corp., Shell Oil Co. and Verizon Foundation are each announcing $1 million donations to help build a memorial on the Mall to the slain civil rights leader. The announcements by Verizon in the District and by Cigna in Philadelphia were planned to coincide with Martin Luther King Day, a national holiday.

“We’re so appreciative of those companies that will come on board, and how excited we are that they want to be part of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Harry E. Johnson, president and chief executive officer of the memorial’s foundation. “We expect and hope we’ll raise the rest of the funds by the end of the year.”

The effort to raise $100 million to build and maintain the memorial began seven years ago with a $10 million donation by General Motors Corp. (GM), followed by fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger’s $5 million. To date, 26 corporations have given $1 million or more.

“By getting to $76 million, I’m feeling much better about getting to the $100 million sooner, rather than later, because I think more and more corporations are hearing about it,” said Gary Cowger, global vice president of GM and chairman of the memorial fundraising effort.

The memorial and a visitor’s center will be on the banks of the Tidal Basin, between the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials, near where King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963.

In the fall, ground was broken for the memorial in a ceremony attended by King’s children, prominent civil rights leaders, celebrities and politicians, including President Bush, former President Bill Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat.

The memorial is scheduled to open in spring 2008 and will be the first monument for a civilian and black leader on the Mall.

“We wanted to be part of the effort because we really do believe that it is an appropriate and fitting tribute,” said Cigna Chief Executive Officer H. Edward Hanway.

Verizon’s gift is meant to underwrite educational programs at the memorial’s visitor center, which will provide interactive displays, streaming video and an Internet site with lessons about King’s core values of equality, justice and community building, said Patrick Gaston, president of Verizon Foundation.

“When we look at Martin Luther King’s dream, in order for the dream to stay alive, we really have to make sure folks are educated about the significance of MLK’s contributions,” he said. “This is a great way of creating a bridge from the 1960s during the times of the civil rights struggle to our current society, where we think this knowledge and information is critical for kids.”

Donations to the fund are coming from a cross-section of businesses and communities in the country, but Mr. Johnson said even the small donations are appreciated.

One man in Alabama “religiously sends in five bucks every month,” Mr. Johnson said. “We certainly encourage the everyday American and everyday citizen from the world to get involved in this — a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to say that you would have a role in building the memorial to Dr. King.”

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