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Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Nearing Completion on National Mall

  • Jeff Swicord

A scele model of the "Stone of Hope" is seen inside a trailer at the construction site of the Martin Luther King National Memorial, 01 Dec 2010

A scele model of the "Stone of Hope" is seen inside a trailer at the construction site of the Martin Luther King National Memorial, 01 Dec 2010

After 20 years of planning, a memorial honoring slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. is nearing completion in Washington. The memorial will feature a large statue of King, a wall of quotations from his writings and speeches and a bookstore.

American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. helped to change the course of U.S. history. Now a memorial on the National Mall in Washington will honor him for his contributions to his country. Its dedication – August 28, 2011, the same day in 1963 when he delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.

"I think we are overjoyed here at the memorial foundation," said Harry Johnson, president of the Martin Luther King Memorial Foundation. "Knowing, understanding and believing that this is going to come to fruition. And that we are soon going to have a Martin Luther King Memorial here on our nation's mall."

Martin Luther King was in the forefront of the American civil rights movement in the 1960s. He led marches and protests throughout the segregated south, preached non-violence in the face of violence and went to jail several times for his actions.

King's efforts helped to lead to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The law forbids discrimination based on sex, race, religion or national origin.

An assassin shot and killed King in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968.

The memorial will occupy a one-and-a-half-hectare site not far from the Washington Monument and memorials to Jefferson and Lincoln.

The focal point of the memorial is a 1,600-metric-ton granite structure called the mountains of despair, a theme from Reverend King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech. A 10-meter high sculpture of King is carved from the center piece.

The granite sculpture is the work of Chinese sculptor Lei Yixin. Museum President Harry Johnson explains why a Chinese sculptor was picked to create the statue.

"We chose him because we really believe that Dr. King's message is true that you should not judge a person by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character," said Johnson. "In these terms, we are thinking artistic character."

Johnson says the King memorial will be a powerful statement about diversity in the United States -- a tribute to how far this country has progressed in the area of civil rights since its founding.

"If America is as prejudice as they say, then would they ever put an African American on the mall? And, the answer would be no," he added. "So now they say we have diversified. We have an America that looks like America, when they look at the mall. And I think visitors from around the world are going to say that it is about time that we all understand who Dr. King really was and what he means, not to just America, but indeed the world."

Johnson says plans for the memorial's dedication call for Barack Obama, the first African American elected president, to deliver the dedication speech.

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