MLK Jr. memorial design modified to add security

Wednesday, August 26, 2009
A model of the centerpiece sculpture from the planned memorial for Martin Luther King Jr. is seen Tuesday in Washington, D.C. (Jacquelyn Martin ~ Associated Press)

WASHINGTON -- Education Secretary Arne Duncan is offering to pull some strings to get construction started on the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial planned for the National Mall.

The project has stalled for about a year because of a disagreement between the foundation building the memorial and the National Park Service over how to secure the site against possible domestic terrorism threats.

The 28-foot sculpture of King is 80 percent complete, but construction of the memorial plaza cannot start until all of the necessary permissions are secured.

Duncan said Tuesday it's time to get to work and offered to make some calls to fellow members of the Obama administration, drawing applause from students and others who gathered at the memorial site to mark the 46th anniversary of the March on Washington. King gave his "I Have a Dream Speech" there on Aug. 28, 1963.

Duncan said he wants young people to know about King's leadership in the fight for equality, education and social justice.

"We have to make sure those lessons are instilled in our next generation, and I worry a lot about that -- about our young students thinking that's ancient history, that we've solved those challenges," he said.

Foundation members said they have redesigned the memorial plaza with an island of elm trees and a few metal security posts that would prevent a driver from entering, rather than a long line of barriers. Design critics had said too many barriers would clutter the site and contradict King's legacy of openness and inclusiveness.

"I think we've come up with a design that will make everybody happy," said Harry Johnson, president of the not-for-profit foundation working to build the monument. "We're ready to start construction."

The park service will present the revised design in October to a panel that oversees architecture in the nation's capital, which had criticized the security barriers.

The memorial foundation also recently submitted a request for building permits to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who oversees the park service, and is waiting for approval, Johnson said.

Hugh Vickery, a spokesman for Salazar, said the park service is going through the normal, time-consuming process of approving a memorial.

"The foundation needs to clear some necessary hurdles," he said, adding that officials "believe the process is going well, and something will happen within a few weeks -- that the approvals will be granted."

On Tuesday, Duncan announced a "Kids for King" competition with memorial organizers for students in grades 3 through 12 to write essays, create artworks or produce videos this school year about King's legacy. Nine winners will get free trips to Washington.

Many students know who King is but don't understand how he connects with history, Johnson said, citing a study the memorial group conducted.

The foundation has raised $106 million of the $120 million needed for the project.

Architect Ed Jackson Jr. said the three primary pieces of the granite memorial are set to be shipped from the studio of Chinese sculptor Lei Yixin in October. The granite sculpture will be shipped in 144 pieces and stored until construction is under way.

"It's breathtaking," Jackson said of the towering 28-foot statue of King that he recently viewed in China. "To think that you can somehow capture the essence of an individual out of one of the hardest stones we know, it's amazing."

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Washington, D.C. Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial:

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