As America celebrates Martin Luther King Jr.'s 82nd birthday Monday, the finishing touches are being put on a memorial to commemorate the man of dreams in Washington, D.C. near where he delivered his most famous speech.
The tribute to Dr. King changes the face of the National Mall. The MLK Memorial is in a direct line between the Lincoln Memorial, where he delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech, and the Jefferson Memorial.
"This is going to be the first memorial to a man of peace, person of color, non-president that's situated here on the mall," said Harry Johnson, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C. Martin Luther King Project Foundation.
After 25 years of fundraising, planning and organizing the site is finally nearing completion. Two giant towers of granite representing the "Mountain of Despair" and the "Stone of Hope" stand along the banks of D.C.'s Tidal Basin. Etched in the "Inscription Wall" along the perimeter of the monument are over a dozen quotes from some of King's most memorable speeches.
"Once this memorial is built it's some place for young people to come and see what this man meant, not just to this country but indeed the world," Johnson said.
Johnson said everything was moving on schedule for the public unveiling August 28, 2011, which falls on the 48th anniversary of King's "I Have a Dream" speech.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar toured the construction site Thursday to assess the project's progress. Salazaar said the monument's goal is "to remind ourselves of his hope, his sense of justice, his quest for equality."
"We are today in 2011 so much a manifestation of his dream," he said.
Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray also came to tour the site. He said the memorial will help future generations understand King's words of compassion and hope. It may even save lives, he said.
"We live, unfortunately, in a world of violence where we see children killing other children," Gray said. "When this memorial is finished, for so many people who didn't live when Dr. King lived, this will bring further to life is words and his vision."
In a recent AP-GfK poll 77 percent of people interviewed said significant progress has been made toward King's dream, up slightly from the 75 percent who felt that way in 2006. Similarly, more people plan to celebrate King's birthday than did five years ago, the poll found. Thirty percent of respondents will celebrate the federal holiday this year compared to 23 percent in 2006.
With a $120 million price tag, fundraising has been the largest barrier to completion of the memorial, said Dina Curtis, director of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project. The project still needs to raise $12 million to meet their goal, she said.
"This is long overdue," said Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, who participated in Thursday's walking tour. "It's certainly a fitting tribute."