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A dream set in stone
Fraternity leader oversaw MLK monument campaign
 
Published Thursday, August 11, 2011 7:40 am
by Brandon Brooks, Los Angeles Sentinel

In memorializing Martin Luther King and his work, Harry Johnson has played a significant role in producing the King monument in Washington, D.C.

Johnson, a Houston lawyer and president of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation, Inc. has led the mission since 2002, and will lead the unveiling of what is arguably the most famous and talked-about memorial America and the world has ever seen.
PHOTO/LOS ANGELES SENTINEL
Houston attorney Harry Johnson stands in front of a replica of the Martin Luther King memorial to be dedicated on Aug. 28.

“Here we are 48 years after the March on Washington, Dr. King’s magnificent words and others, we now dedicate for the first time in our history a memorial to a man of peace, a non-president, and a person of color,” Johnson said. 
Under Johnson’s leadership, the MLK Memorial Foundation has raised $112 million of the $120 million needed to complete the memorial.

On August 28, there will be an unveiling at the National Mall to mark the 48th anniversary of the March on Washington where King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. The event will be televised nationally on networks such as CNN, TV One and BET, and other major networks will cut in throughout the day.

Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity played a pivotal role in the idea and origin of King’s legacy being honored through a Washington memorial.  From 2001 to 2004, Johnson served as national president of Alpha Phi Alpha, the fraternity of which King was a member. It has more than 700 chapters located throughout the United States and abroad.

“Alpha Phi Alpha got involved because of five visionaries, Harold Navy, Al Bailey, George Sealy, Oscar Little and Eddie Madison, who sat around a table and thought that people of color were not visiting the mall in great numbers and how do you get them to understand our great history?” said Johnson.  “They obviously said, ‘hey, well what if there were some memorials or statues of people of color then people of color would come’.  And they came up and said for whom should this memorial be, and who would do one?  And they threw all the names, and that they came up with, and ended up with Dr. King’s name.”

Johnson is a career lawyer and partner at the Law Office of Glenn and Johnson.  He served as city attorney for Kendelton, Texas, from 1996-99, and taught at Texas Southern University in the Thurgood Marshall School of Law and School of Public Affairs.

Johnson earned his law degree from Texas Southern, where he was a member of the Thurgood Marshall Student Bar Association.  He completed graduate studies in public administration at St. Louis University and earned his undergraduate degree from Xavier University in Louisiana.
The MLK Memorial Foundation anticipates 4 million will visit the King memorial, which would make it the most-visited memorial in the near future for people to come and visit. President Obama will also be in attendance.

“We know that the secretary of Interior (Ken Salazar) will be there,” said Johnson. “Several past icons of the civil rights movement will be there.  We also know that Aretha Franklin will be on program, BeBe Winans, Stevie Wonder, Jamie Foxx, Maya Angelou, Herbie Hancock, Mary Mary, Naturally 7, and a few others.  We are expecting 250,000 people.

“One of the things we want people worldwide, and especially young children in this country, is for them to see that with this memorial on the mall, for the first time in our history, the mall will be diversified.

“Never before has there been a memorial to a person of color of this magnitude.  There may be a statue of Mary McLeod Bethune somewhere, but there is certainly not anything of this magnitude.  And to say that Dr. King is situated between the Lincoln and the Jefferson memorials, and to their left is the Washington Memorial.  It’s a great piece of real estate to be associated with.”

It’s important to note that for a memorial of this magnitude to be built and completed, in just 25 years of conception, is remarkable.

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s memorial took 45 years from concept to completion with a staff of 44 and a budget of $170 million. With a staff of 11, the MLK memorial is one of only a few memorials to raise funds from private sources.

“Well from what I’ve been told, Dr. King would want to know what is all the fuss about.  But in my honest opinion, we don’t build memorials to men, we build them from ideals of which they have,” said Johnson.  “That being said, we built this memorial because of the ideals Dr. King stood for.”

For more information on the MLK Memorial Foundation and a virtual tour, visit www.mlkmemorial.org. For information on the dedication, visit www.dedicatethedream.org.

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