More than a decade after then-President Bill Clinton authorized the construction of a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial in the District, the Department of the Interior has granted permission to start construction.
At a ceremony on Oct. 29, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar signed the construction permit alongside Harry E. Johnson, Sr., president of the MLK Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation.
“Where so many other of our nation’s heroes have been honored, it is time to honor MLK,” Salazar said, sporting a cowboy hat and standing behind a podium at the site of the memorial.
“This is a great and momentous day in the history of our nation,” he added.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus were on hand to celebrate the occasion as well.
“Dr. King, we will break ground. We will stand here and honor you,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas.
The four-acre memorial site sits on the Tidal Basin between the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, near the intersection of Independence Avenue and West Basin Drive.
The monument will include the use of water, stone and trees in symbolizing Dr. King’s persistent call for equality and hope, according to a Department of the Interior news release.
“What better place to put a ‘King’ than between two presidents,” Johnson said at the press conference.
Christine King Ferris, the last remaining King sibling, also spoke to the crowd at the event.
“I am overwhelmed, overjoyed, so sincere,” she said. “This is an emotional moment for me.”
Ferris also noted that the memorial will have an indelible impact on generations to come.
“I think [my brother] would say ‘no, don’t do this for me,’ but we have to do it,” Ferris said.
Brothers of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, and Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Tom Strickland were also in attendance to participate in the signing of the permit.
The project’s foundation is calling this latest phase of the project “Countdown to Completion.”
Though the organization needs $14 million more in order to meet its $120 million fundraising goal, completion is expected for sometime in 2011.
“I call on all Americans to participate in our ‘Build the Dream: Countdown to Completion’ phase of the fundraising campaign by donating $1 or more to become a part of history,” Johnson said in a news release.
The “drum major for justice,” as Jackson Lee called King, would have been celebrating his 81st birthday this coming winter.