- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 4, 2008

More than a dozen civil rights pioneers pledged Wednesday to rally behind the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial planned for the national Mall to help raise the final $18 million needed for the project as the nation inaugurates its first black president.

Friends and associates of King gathered in Washington to hear an update of the memorial’s progress.

“I like what I see because now we’re going to have his words etched in stone,” said Xernona Clayton, who served as King’s assistant and later worked as a television personality and broadcast executive in Atlanta.

Ms. Clayton, who pledged to ask friends to donate whatever they can, added, “I don’t think the masses understand what they can do to assist.”

Others urged the King memorial foundation to capitalize on the enthusiasm behind President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration to help raise money. The inaugural ceremonies, expected to bring a million visitors to Washington on Jan. 20, will come the day after the King holiday.

The group of King associates held a fundraising dinner Tuesday and toured the memorial site early Wednesday. Most had not been intimately involved with the memorial effort.

Most of the senior citizen activists who still work as pastors, professors and civil rights advocates, went home with brochures, lapel pens and DVDs to help raise more money for the project.

Organizers of the memorial project have applied for building permits to start construction, but a disagreement over how to secure the site has caused delays. The National Park Service has insisted on security, saying the memorial could be a domestic terrorism target. Some of King’s friends offered to help persuade the Park Service to let the project proceed.

The memorial foundation still hopes to begin construction early next year and complete it by summer of 2010, said Richard Marshall, the foundation’s chief financial officer. About $102 million has been raised of the $120 million needed to finish the project.

“I don’t need to tell you who will be dedicating this memorial in 2010, President-elect Barack Obama,” Mr. Marshall told the group of civil rights veterans.

Architect Ed Jackson Jr. presented the memorial’s design and explained why they chose to remove a passage from the “I Have a Dream” speech in which King declared, “We have come to cash this check” to establish equal rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Some have used the passage in arguing for monetary reparations for slavery.

Mr. Jackson said they decided against using the passage because of its focus on the racial divide between blacks and whites.

The memorial design - with King’s image emerging from a towering Stone of Hope surrounded by cherry trees between the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials - was praised by those who knew King. A nearly 600-foot crescent shaped wall will be engraved with some of King’s famous words.

“At some points, I was so welled up in the memories of what the memorial reflected that it really caused me to have quiet tears,” said Clarence Jones, who served as King’s personal attorney and part-time speechwriter.

“In 12 years and four months from 1956 to April 4, 1968,” Mr. Jones said, “Martin Luther King Jr., except for Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation, may have done more to achieve political, social and racial justice than any other person.”

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