Construction of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the National Mall is 45 percent complete and on schedule, to be finished by fall 2011, according to Harry E. Johnson, Sr., president and CEO of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation, Inc.

When completed, the memorial will sit on a four-acre site near the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and in a direct sight line between the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials.

So far, the foundation for the “Stone of Hope” has been poured, the support structure for the inscription wall has been erected, 300 piles to support the memorial have been laid, and more than 200 cherry blossom trees are being cultivated for planting at the site.

Visitors can follow the progress of the construction on the Foundation’s Construction Updates section of its website, http://www.buildthedream.org.

In September, Chinese artist Lei Yixin, lead sculptor on the project, is expected to arrive and begin the process of assembling the sculpture of King. In June, delivery of the stones hit a snag when Greece announced its economic crisis was so extreme, it could no longer afford to honor its promise to pay for shipping the 1,600 tons of sculpture the 11,000 miles from China to the nation’s capitol.

So King’s statue, the focal point of he memorial, sat in a Chinese warehouse until shipping details were worked out.

Yixin’s appointment sparked considerable debate over why King Memorial officials bypassed an African-American artist — or any American artist — as the lead sculptor. Some Black artists complained that outsourcing the King project to China crossed the line.

Had an American artist been selected, they argued, the sculpture would not have been stranded.

Johnson said once visitors see the statue, however, their reservations will dissipate.

“I’ve seen the sculpture complete, the pieces stacked on top of each other. When you see it for the first time, it almost brings you to tears,” Johnson told BlackAmericaWeb.com.
While construction is proceeding, the Foundation is still short of the $120 million needed to complete the memorial. So far, $107 million has been raised, and Johnson hopes to be able to announce another major gift within the next two weeks.

General Motors has pledged $10 million to the project; fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger, $5 million; the NBA and several other organizations each committed $3 million and there have been a series of $1 million gifts from a variety of groups, as well as small donations from individuals.

In recognition of 47th anniversary of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, the Foundation sold commemorative coins for $47 each. The Foundation took out newspaper ads and posted a link to order the coins on its website.

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