Media conglomerate Viacom Inc., which owns BET and MTV, announced a donation yesterday valued at $1.5 million in cash and promotions to help build the Martin Luther King memorial on the Mall.
Viacom pledged $1 million in cash as well as promotions that will include public-service announcements across the company’s networks and its billboards in Times Square, Chief Executive Officer Philippe Dauman said.
In response, the foundation working to build the memorial named Viacom the title sponsor for the musical benefit Dream Concert scheduled for Sept. 18 at Radio City Music Hall in New York.
“We are very keen to have our company, our entire employee population really, live the messages of diversity, inclusion and justice that Dr. King stood for,” Mr. Dauman said.
The benefit concert will include headliners Garth Brooks, Aretha Franklin, Queen Latifah, Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds and Stevie Wonder. Tickets range from $250 to $1,000.
The memorial will be built near the Tidal Basin between the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials. It will include a sculpture of King and 14 quotations from the slain civil rights leader.
The project had been scheduled for completion late next year but likely will be pushed back until 2009 because of delays with the design process, said Harry Johnson, president and chief executive officer of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation Inc.
The foundation has raised $82 million of the $100 million needed to complete and maintain the memorial, Mr. Johnson said. Organizers hope the Viacom gift and promotions for the Dream Concert will build momentum for the final leg of fundraising.
“Every time we get a large donor, it definitely helps spur others and bring others to the table,” said Mr. Johnson, a Houston lawyer.
He has been fending off criticism over the foundation’s selection of a Chinese sculptor for the statue. Some have said a black artist should have been chosen to sculpt the first monument to a black leader on the Mall.
In February, the foundation announced that Lei Yixin, one of nine sculptors considered national treasures in China, would carve the King likeness in the memorial’s 28-foot granite “Stone of Hope.”
Since then, one group has drafted a petition and started a Web site (kingisours.com), calling the selection a “travesty of justice.”
“For us to … say we shouldn’t use somebody because of the color of their skin and not the content of their character … is a very bigoted thought, which really goes against, in my viewpoint, what Dr. King stood for,” Mr. Johnson said.
Bronze sculptor Ed Dwight, who also was the first black astronaut, told the Los Angeles Times that he was pushed aside from the project because the foundation hoped the selection of a Chinese sculptor would result in a $25 million donation. Mr. Johnson said that wasn’t true and that Mr. Dwight doesn’t sculpt granite.
“We have never, never contacted the Embassy of China, anybody in China or any companies in China asking for a dime,” he said.