Martin Luther King memorial to open

2011-01-14 13:35

Washington - A much-delayed memorial to Martin Luther King Jnr is on schedule to be inaugurated on the day on which, 47 years ago, the US civil rights icon made one of his best-known speeches, an official said on Thursday.

"On August 28 1963, King made his 'I have a dream speech'; on August 28 Barack Obama won the Democratic Party nomination for the White House, and August 28 2011 will be the day this landmark opens," Harry Johnson, head of the foundation in charge of building the memorial, said.

Thousands of people are expected to turn out for the inauguration of the memorial, which had been set to open in early 2009 but has been dogged by delays.

Everything from bickering over security at the site to the economic meltdown in Greece has slowed completion of the memorial.

Greece balked on an offer to ship the statue free of charge from China, where it was sculpted, to the US capital when the European Union nation's economy melted down.

The 159 pieces of the statue eventually arrived in August 2010 and have been put together on the memorial site.

The fact that the statue was carved out of white granite by Chinese sculptor Lei Yixin also sparked controversy, with US masons complaining that there were "plenty of unemployed" in their ranks who would have liked to work on the memorial.

Civil rights martyr

The $120m memorial was still a building site on Thursday when Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes-Norton, Environmental Protection Administration chief Lisa Jackson, and Washington Mayor Vincent Gray took an inspection tour.

The centrepiece 8.5m statue of King was in place, gazing across the waters of the Tidal Basin to the memorial to president Thomas Jefferson, but it was obscured from photographers' lenses by scaffolding and mesh webbing.

"They want to 'keep' it until August 28th," said an official connected to the memorial who asked not to be named.

King became a martyr for the US civil rights movement when he was shot dead in Memphis, Tennessee in April 1968. He was 39 years old.

A staunch advocate of nonviolence and direct action to achieve social change, he helped lead a bus boycott in segregated Alabama in the 1950s and mass protests in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963, which led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act one year later.

He was also known for his eloquent and moving speeches, and some of the best-known King quotes are engraved in a polished stone wall at the memorial site.

Read more on:    martin luther king jnr  |  us

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