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Building a Dream

MLK Group Hopes Ad Campaign Will Raise $75M for Memorial

Since it received Congressional approval in 1996, the creation of a memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. has often moved at a snail’s pace.

But in coming months, officials at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation believe they will finally be able to hit full stride.

The group is preparing to roll out a national advertising campaign to help raise $75 million needed to begin construction of the $100 million project slated for a spot next to the Tidal Basin. To date, the foundation has raised only a quarter of the necessary funds, estimating it has about $25.5 million in cash and in-kind donations.

The campaign — a mix of free print, television and radio spots and a new Web site created by the Ad Council — will be similar to one used to raise funds for the National World War II Memorial now under construction on the Mall near 17th Street.

“We’re hoping that lighting will strike twice, so to speak, and do for us what it has done for the World War II memorial,” said LeRoy Lowery, the foundation’s executive director.

Slow fundraising efforts, Lowery said, are primarily the result of a lack of publicity.

“As we talk to people around the country, there are many that aren’t aware of our effort,” Lowery said. But he added that the campaign — which has an estimated value of $32 million — should help to change that.

“We’re just kind of chomping at the bit to see how well we can get this thing played on the television stations,” Lowery said.

The three TV ads share a theme — “Imagine if Dr. Martin Luther King had not had a dream, what the world would be like today,” according to Lowery.

The foundation, however, faces another hurdle in getting the word out, as it has pushed back the campaign’s start date because of the current war in Iraq.

Initially slated to begin April 7, Lowery said the campaign is now scheduled for early May. “We’ll keep talking about it as the situation plays out,” he said.

Additionally, the foundation needs Congress to extend the project’s original deadline. Under the Commemorative Works Act, which authorized the memorial, construction is required to begin by November.

“Our research has shown that every memorial going back to Vietnam has had to get an extension, including World War II, FDR and others,” Lowery said. “It’s not an unusual thing. We would have liked to have broken ground by November, but it does not appear we can meet that date.”

Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.) and Rep. Diane Watson (D-Calif.) have introduced legislation that would give the foundation an additional three years.

“This extension of legislative authority has been done before for other memorials, given the length of time it usually takes to embark on a project of this magnitude, and it should be done for the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial,” Sarbanes said on the floor in February.

“Visitors will come to the memorial from every part of this country and indeed the world, to be inspired anew by Dr. King’s words and deeds, and the extraordinary story of his life,” added Sarbanes, who is on the nearly 200-member Honorary Congressional Committee co-chaired by King’s window, Coretta Scott King.

The memorial will be built on a 4-acre site adjacent to the Tidal Basin. It will stand opposite the Jefferson Memorial, to the north of the Roosevelt Memorial.

On its Web site, the foundation describes the site as a visual “line of leadership” between the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials.

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