MLK Memorial Still $6 Million Shy of Reaching Goal, But Will Go as Planned

Thousands of visitors will descend upon the National Mall in Washington, D.C. later this month to witness the unveiling of the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial -- a moment that has been 25 years in the making.

Event organizers have had to overcome a number of obstacles, such as public criticism, and now one more stands in their way -- a $6 million hurdle.

"It's been an uphill battle all the way, but we are confident that we'll reach our goal," said Harry Johnson, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation, Inc.

The four-acre site, complete with a 28-foot high granite statue of King, stretches from the Tidal Basin to Independence Avenue, and sits between the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials. It also comes with a $120 million price tag. So far, organizers have raised $114 million through private and public donations.

To reach its financial goal, the foundation has employed a number of grassroots strategies, such as children raising donations at school-based events. reported that the Maurice W. Downing Elementary School of Malverne, N.Y., raised $1,978 during its "Reading to Build a Dream" fundraiser. Grade school students and the Parent Advisory Council at George Manierre School in Chicago hosted a dance where they raised more than $600. The African American Organization at Owings Mills High School in Baltimore, Md., hosted a number of events, including a basketball tournament to raise $1,000.

Johnson says the foundation has raised $1.4 million in donations from churches and synagogues from all over the country. He added that people who believe in King's message have been donating $5 or $10 through the foundation's website, text messages and mail-in donation forms.

"The event is going to happen," Johnson said. "I'm positive. We like to think about the positive."

The MLK Memorial Was Designed by a Chinese Artist

Aside from finances, the memorial drew criticism after the foundation asked Chinese artist Lei Yixin to design and construct the site. USA Today reported that the organizer's decision to choose an artist from outside of the U.S. and from a communist country was a point of contention for dissenters.

"Dr. King would have wanted us to pick the person who would do the best job regardless of the color," Johnson said. "He said it in his speeches that we should not judge a person by skin but the content of his character."

The memorial features numerous design elements, including a Stone of Hope, a Mountain of Despair and an inscription wall. Stone of Hope and Mountain of Despair are plays on a line from King's famous "I Have a Dream Speech," when he said: "We shall hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope."

The 14 quotes adorning the inscription wall come from some of King's most famous speeches. Johnson said the four central tenets of King -- love, hope, justice and democracy -- were the deciding factors on which quotes made the wall, and the positive quotes will ensure the "living memorial will live on to eternity."

"This will mean something to all people in general regardless of their color," he said. "No gender or race is mentioned in the quotes."

Few have been able to get a peek at the monument, but among them were a group of 17 local faith-based leaders who got a first look back in June.

Rev. Harold Carter, a minister from New Shiloh Baptist church in Baltimore, was part of the group who got a look at the memorial. Seeing it made him recall his days marching with King.

"As fraternity brothers we marched together during the early days of the Montgomery bus boycott," Carter told ABC affiliate WJLA.

The commemorative site will be the first on the National Mall to honor a person who was not a president or a soldier. This will also be the first time a person of color will be honored with a statue at the D.C. site.

The unveiling event scheduled for Aug. 28 will coincide with the 40th anniversary of the March on Washington and King's "I Have a Dream" speech. The event is expected to feature musical performances by a number of entertainers, including singer Smokey Robinson.

Some Interesting Facts About the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial:

The address of the memorial is 1964 Independence Avenue. 1964 is the year President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law.

King's memorial statue is located near the cherry trees on the national mall, which coincidentally bloom each year around the week King was assassinated.

The Aug. 28 dedication is exactly three years to the date of President Barack Obama's acceptance of Democratic nomination. The White House announced on Aug. 4 that the president will speak at the unveiling. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell is also scheduled to attend.