WASHINGTON — Efforts to build a national memorial honoring Martin Luther King Jr. have stalled because the civil rights leader’s family wants money to use his name and likeness in the marketing campaign.
"They’re asking for something in regard to a licensing fee," said Harry Johnson, president of the memorial foundation. "We’re just trying to walk a fine, thin line."
Last week, Johnson called representatives of the King family to ask about a dollar figure, but he says they haven’t returned his call. Officials at the Atlanta-based King Center for Nonviolent Social Change also didn’t immediately return calls Wednesday seeking comment.
Congress approved a King memorial in June 1998 and set aside land on the National Mall, which already is home to memorials for Franklin D. Roosevelt and Vietnam and Korean War veterans, and is the future home to a sprawling World War II memorial.
Congress authorized King’s fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, to lead the project and gave it until November 2003 to raise $100 million and break ground. Johnson, who is president of the fraternity, is confident the deadline will be met, though the licensing fee dispute apparently has hampered fund-raising.
General Motors Corp. contributed $750,000 and suggested that a much larger donation would follow. GM spokesman Bill Noack says those plans now are on hold.
"There have been internal discussions of a larger gift, but there has been no commitment," Noack said. "The King family will obviously need to embrace this project for it to go forward."
King’s family is fiercely protective of his name, but also has been criticized for commercializing it.
The family received an undisclosed fee from French telecommunications giant Alcatel, which used King’s image for a TV ad. Cingular Wireless also paid to use part of King’s "I Have a Dream" speech for an ad campaign featuring quotes from figures ranging from Winston Churchill to cartoon character Homer Simpson.
Emory University historian David Garrow, a King family critic, said he isn’t surprised the family wants money for the memorial.
"It just seems par for the course," said Garrow, who won the Pulitzer Prize for the his biography, "Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference." "They see something that looks like it’s going to produce a certain amount of money, and they’re saying, ‘Where’s my cut?’ "
The National Capital Planning Commission has granted permission to put the four-acre King memorial on Washington’s Tidal Basin between and the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials.
The design, by a San Francisco-based architectural firm, was selected out of 900 candidates. It features walls, trees and a stone structure at the entrance that will include King’s profile and his "promissory note" passage, in which he calls for freedom and fairness for black Americans.
MLK Memorial: www.mlkmemorial.org
King Center: www.thekingcenter.org
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