MLK Memorial takes shape on National Mall in DC

WASHINGTON (AP) - A short distance from where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech, a 28-foot-tall statue of the slain civil rights leader has risen...

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WASHINGTON (AP) — A short distance from where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, a 28-foot-tall statue of the slain civil rights leader has risen as part of a new memorial that will be dedicated next year.

The granite sculpture, located near the Tidal Basin and between the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials, shows King with arms crossed and a determined look.

Still wrapped in scaffolding as construction continues, the statue faces the Jefferson Memorial. The statue’s head was put in place just before Thanksgiving, workers said Wednesday while offering the first glimpse of the monument.

Chinese sculptor Lei Yixin hopes to complete the “Stone of Hope” sculpture of King by year’s end.

The National Mall site will be surrounded with cherry trees that will blossom in pink and white in the spring, the same time of year King was assassinated, organizers said. King was fatally shot in Memphis on April 4, 1968 by James Earl Ray.

“When you go out and see the memorial itself and see Dr. King standing there, a tear may form up in your eye — your heart may flutter a little bit,” said Harry Johnson, president of the group that’s been working over the past 20 years to build the memorial. “You’re going to be proud of what you see, and you’re going to be taken aback.”

The sheer size of the 28-foot-tall sculpture of King sets it apart from nearby statues of such presidents as Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, which are both about 20 feet tall, though inside larger monuments.

The statue will be flanked by curving granite walls engraved with some of King’s famous quotations. The quotations were taken from speeches in Atlanta, New York, Washington, Los Angeles and Montgomery, Ala., as well as from King’s books and his letter from a Birmingham, Ala., jail.

Ofield Dukes, 78, who was on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial when King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech and who advised his wife, the late Coretta Scott King, for many years, got a first look at the King memorial site Wednesday.

“I just think that is remarkable, yes indeed, what I can see of it,” he said. “I think millions and millions of people from throughout the world will come to see this.”

“This probably will end up being the most popular attraction on the Mall,” he said.

Dukes, who lives in Washington, said the quotations reinforce the statue with the essence of King’s principles.

One of the stone engravings reads: “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Johnson also responded to complaints from a stonemasons union that the memorial organizers had reneged on an agreement to use local workers for the project. He said the project includes both unionized and nonunion workers, as well as 10 Chinese craftsmen who work for the sculptor and came to the United States with the State Department’s blessing.

A dedication and opening has been scheduled for Aug. 28, 2011 — the 48th anniversary of King’s “Dream” speech.

The memorial foundation still must raise $12 million to complete the $120 million project. Johnson said the group has enough money to carry it through construction but must raise the rest to put the finishing touches on the four-acre site. The memorial will be maintained by the National Park Service when it is completed.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.