As we celebrate Black History Month, probably the most notable leader in the Civil Rights Movement is now properly memorialized in our nation's capital thanks to one of our outstanding leaders in the Alabama-West Florida Conference. Mr. Frank Jenkins, III, a member of Metropolitan United Methodist Church, where he serves on the administrative council as well as several conference committees, was appointed to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Foundation’s board of directors upon its formation in 1998 and has served from inception to dedication as chairman of the audit committee.
This memorial took over 28 years to accomplish and its history is worth noting. A small group of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated members developed the idea for the memorial in 1983 to honor their Alpha brother, Dr. Martin Luther King. A year later, they presented their idea to the General Convention of Alpha Phi Alpha and the Fraternity embraced the memorial as a national project. Sadly, the idea was not embraced by the American public for several years so the plan was tabled.
Diligent Fraternity members continued behind-the-scenes work in the 1990s where the dream became a reality. Under the leadership of Alpha Phi Alpha's 29th General President, Milton Davis (a Tuskegee, Alabama attorney), the United States Congress passed, then President Bill Clinton signed legislation authorizing the Fraternity to establish a memorial in Washington DC dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Later in the decade it was established that the memorial would be located in the National Mall where other significant leaders of our country are memorialized such as Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and war veterans; a place for the brave few.
On May 28, 1998 the Washington, DC Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation, Incorporated was founded. This organization was solely responsible for the planning, building and fundraising of the memorial. At this point, two Montgomery leaders were appointed to help guide the committee. Attorney Tyrone Means and Frank A. Jenkins III of Montgomery donated valuable time to lend their expertise to this committee. As mentioned, Jenkins, a CPA, served as chair of the audit committee and Means was legal counsel. Jenkins expressed his gratitude for this honor by saying, "On behalf of the board of directors of the Washington, DC Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation, Incorporated, I thank all of our brothers and sisters from the United Methodist Churches and from around the world for the contributions to the completion of the Memorial."
General Motors generously initiated the fundraising campaign with a grant of $10 million in 2001. The 31st General President of Alpha Phi Alpha, Harry E. Johnson, Sr., implemented a new fundraising plan to raise $120 million.
906 design entries were submitted from 52 countries. ROMA Design Group of San Francisco, CA was granted the project. Their design incorporated four themes Dr. King embraces which were Justice, Hope, Democracy and Love. Countless approvals by the National Capital Planning Commission, the US Commission of Fine Arts and the National Park Service were required during the design process. A celebratory groundbreaking finally happened on November 13, 2006 with three presidents in attendance (then President George Bush, former President Bill Clinton and future President and then US Senator Barack Obama). Master Lei of China was announced as the sculptor on January 15, 2007. On June 5, 2007, the Foundation announced that the McKissack/Turner Construction/Tompkins Builders/Gilford Corporation Design-Build Joint Venture was selected as the contractor for the project.
In 2008, the National Park Service, the National Capital Planning Commission, and the Commission of Fine Arts granted full, final design approval for the project. The construction permit was signed by Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar on October 29, 2009. Construction finally began along the Tidal Basin in December of 2009; thirteen years after legislation approving the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial was signed!
The actual development phases of the memorial from construction until completion—which took almost two years—were mobilization; infrastructure; art work and landscaping. What made the Memorial come to life were the donations from people from all backgrounds. Seven-figure checks to envelopes with one-dollar bills combined to form this phenomenal structure that represents the struggle for equal rights. The Memorial has raised $117,000,000 of the requested $120,000,000 as of October 16, 2011.
President Obama had the honor of speaking at the dedication of the Memorial on Sunday, October 16, 2011.
It was a small dream of six Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Members that took 28 years to accomplish. Nobody knew it would take this long. But Dr. King strongly believed in dreams, no matter how hard they were. He had one, too.
*Based on information from the August 28, 2011 Commemorative Program