Washington Midway between the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials, at the quiet intersection of two sidewalks along Washington's Tidal Basin, a tarnished bronze plaque marks the spot where a larger-than-life image of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. may one day rise.
"At this site will be erected the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial," reads the square marker, placed more than four years ago. Since then, supporters have been trying to raise the $100 million necessary to erect a grand national memorial to the slain civil rights leader.
Organizers had hoped to break ground this year, with completion in 2006. But fund raising has progressed slowly in the face of the nation's economic troubles. In 2003, Congress granted organizers a three-year extension to secure the money and keep the dream of a King memorial on the National Mall alive.
"We don't build memorials to people, we build memorials to ideals they stand for," said Harry E. Johnson Sr., a Houston attorney and president of the Washington, D.C., Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation. "Dr. King's ideal is peace. Dr. King's idea is equality. That's what this memorial will stand for."
The foundation has raised $32.5 million and must get to $66 million before construction can begin. So far, awareness of the project has lagged nationwide, said the Rev. Cecil Williams of San Francisco's Glide Memorial United Methodist Church and founder of the Northern California Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Observance Committee.
"I think maybe part of the problem is they have not had very much time to reach out across America to talk about it," Williams said.
That will change next month, Johnson said.
The foundation plans to launch print advertisements and television public service announcements starring actors Morgan Freeman and Samaire Armstrong urging people to contribute. As with other recent memorials, the planned King memorial must be paid for with private money.
King's memorial was authorized by Congress in 1996.