02/01/11 10:00 AM EST
MLB helping King Memorial project reach finish
Civil Rights Game events proceeds to go toward D.C. monument
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
As one of the leading activists during the civil rights movement, Young stood side by side with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. -- working with him, learning from him and calling him a friend.
So when Young paid a visit to Washington, D.C., to see the nearly completed National Memorial for King a few months ago, his emotions almost got the best of him.
"It was all that I could do to hold back tears of joy," Young, who went on to become mayor of Atlanta, said about his visit. "It's beautiful, it's impressive. And I knew Martin Luther King as a 5-foot-7-inch human being, and this is a 20-something-foot statue."
Young has been involved with the construction of the memorial since the very start. The process began 27 years ago, when the fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha -- the first African-American fraternity, one that King and Young were a part of -- proposed building a monument to King in the National Mall.
Since then, roughly $109 million has been collected for the memorial, about $11 million short of the goal. A dedication ceremony is scheduled for Aug. 28 -- the 48th anniversary of King's March on Washington.
Before that, Major League Baseball will get involved, by donating all of the proceeds from some events during the fifth annual Civil Rights Game celebration -- the Red Carpet Tribute to Hank Aaron on May 12 and the Beacon Awards Banquet on May 14 -- toward the construction of the monument. The Civil Rights Game will encompass four days of events and culminate with the Braves hosting the Phillies at Turner Field on May 15.
"We're in Atlanta, one of the events is at the Ebenezer [Baptist] Church, we're going to be spending time at [King's] home in Atlanta; it was just natural that we donate proceeds of the Civil Rights Game events to helping close the gap on the memorial," said Jimmie Lee Solomon, MLB's executive vice president of baseball development.
Harry Johnson, president and CEO of the MLK National Memorial Project Foundation, said that coming up with the rest of the money in time shouldn't be a problem, citing several donations on the docket -- including MLB's -- that will allow the organization to reach its target on time.
"I'm confident it's going to happen," Johnson said.
The memorial will take up four acres in the northeast corner of the Tidal Basin, sitting adjacent to the FDR Memorial and creating a "line of leadership" from the Lincoln Memorial -- where King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech -- to the Jefferson Memorial.
It will encompass three themes, according to the Memorial's website: justice, democracy and hope.
Passers-by will first walk through a main entrance called the "Mountain of Despair," made up of two large boulders symbolizing King's struggle. On each side will be granite inscription walls, stretching a total of 500 feet and encompassing 14 famous King quotes.
Sitting in the center of the plaza will be the "Stone of Hope," a 28-foot, six-inch rock with a carved King looking out toward the FDR and Jefferson memorials.
"The purpose of the Monument was really a testament to the power of non-violence and social change in America," Young said. "You have three of our founding fathers along that garden -- Jefferson, Washington and Lincoln -- and all of them were involved in some way in a violent struggle. And I think one thing I wanted understood is that Dr. King introduced a new way of resolving problems, and that is that problems could be solved without violence and without bloodshed."
Once completed, the monument will be administered by the National Park Service. Johnson expects 200,000 people to attend an unveiling that will make King the first African-American man and third non-president honored in the Mall.
But long before that -- before former President Bill Clinton signed a Congressional legislation, before Morgan Freeman and several other celebrities got behind it, before General Motors donated $10 million, before Young visited the monument for himself -- a chance was taken.
That came from Alpha Phi Alpha, which began a grassroots effort to build the memorial in 1984 by collecting any donations it could -- $5, $20, $30 -- and placing them in a small box. In 1996, the fraternity president got the bill signed by Clinton. The next fraternity president got the land permits.
Then it was Johnson's turn.
"When I became Alpha Phi Alpha president [in 2001], they said, 'OK, go raise $100 million,'" he chuckled. "That's how I got involved."
He can laugh now. The cause has come a long way.
Initially, the biggest challenge was making potential donors believe in the project.
"Some of the largest problems we faced was convincing people that it could in fact happen," Johnson said. "It was just unheard of that a group, especially African-Americans, was going to raise $100 million or more for a memorial of Dr. King.
"It's been a difficult process, but we're pleased that we're seeing the light at the end of the tunnel."
More information on the memorial, as well as a means to donate, can be found at mlkmemorial.org.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and 'The Show,' and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.