- The Washington Times - Friday, November 3, 2006

On a hot August afternoon in 1963, Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech to a mostly black audience from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

On Nov. 13, a half-mile from Lincoln’s iconic statue, a diverse group of celebrities, corporate leaders and ordinary Americans will help turn the first shovels of dirt for a memorial honoring the slain civil rights leader.

It will be the first monument to a black American on the Mall, and it comes 38 years after King’s death.

“He’s an American hero, and beyond that he’s a hero for all sorts of people,” said poet and novelist Maya Angelou, who is scheduled to join talk-show host Oprah Winfrey and others who have been working for more than a decade to help build the monument.

Miss Angelou said the groundbreaking is even more special because it comes almost a year after the death of King’s widow.

“She never was a person to say, ‘Why didn’t it happen sooner?’ That would not be Coretta Scott King,” Miss Angelou said of her friend, who died in January at 78.

Following the deaths of Mrs. King and civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks, who died in October 2005, efforts to raise the $100 million to build and maintain the four-acre memorial accelerated.

Donations, mostly from major corporations, had totaled less than $40 million through August 2005.

But as of Nov. 1, donations topped $65.5 million.

Harry Johnson, president of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation, said he hopes to have the site completed by the spring of 2008.

The location is flanked by the Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and Franklin D. Roosevelt memorials near the eastern edge of the Potomac River Tidal Basin.

From a distance, visitors can see the stairs where King delivered his most famous speech during the March on Washington on Aug. 28, 1963.

The entrance to the memorial will include a central sculpture called “The Mountain of Despair.” Its towering split rocks signify the divided America that inspired the nonviolent efforts of King and others to overcome racial and social barriers.

“This gateway was designed to lead visitors to the heart and soul of this living memorial,” said Ed Jackson Jr., the project’s executive architect.

Beyond the entrance are landscaped gardens surrounding a “Stone of Hope,” a rock carved with the image of the civil rights leader and inscribed with excerpts from his speeches.

“Martin Luther King stood for so much of what America represents, including equal justice and equal opportunity for all,” said Henry Schleiff, chief executive officer of the Hallmark Networks, one of the memorial’s many corporate supporters.

The Revs. Andrew Young and Jesse Jackson, who were with King on the trip to Memphis that preceded his assassination on April 4,1968, are among 5,000 people invited to the ceremonial groundbreaking.

Former President Bill Clinton, who signed a resolution approved by Congress authorizing the memorial in 1996, is scheduled to speak at the ceremony.

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