LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - Nearly 50 years after Martin Luther King made his famous "I have a dream" speech, thousands are seeing another dream come true not far from where he delivered those words.
The opening of a $120,000,000 memorial to Dr. King was unveiled Monday at the National Mall in Washington D.C. alongside monuments to the nation's most honored presidents. The 30 foot high granite statue of Dr. King and the surround 4 1/2 acres sits between the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials.
It took more than 30 years of planning and campaigning to make it a reality. The National Alpha Phi Alpha organization spearheaded the move to get the monument built. Instrumental in the process was Lake Charles native Adrian Wallace, who is the director of the SEED Center and works closely with the Southwest Louisiana Chamber. Wallace was President of the Alpha Phi Alpha organization at the time when the strategic planning took place.
"It took some years for this idea to get off the ground. It all started with three of our members talking around their kitchen table and then was presented to the national organization in the early 80s," said Wallace. "It wasn't until October of 1996 that Congress finally passed legislation for the memorial to be built in Washington D.C. President Bill Clinton signed it into law in November 1996. I then took over as President of Alpha Phi Alpha in January 1997 - so I knew the whole scope of my tenor needed to change."
Wallace recalls getting organized and getting Congress to pass another piece of legislation so the MLK Memorial could be built on the National Mall.
"That happened within about a year to get Congressional approval. We were surprised at how fast that happened. So then the next phase was to get a design that we could all agree on," recalled Wallace.
"We sent out an International request for designs to more than 40 countries. We narrowed it down to three before selecting the winner. And it's amazing because it is 95% of what was originally presented. Very little had to be changed," said Wallace. "We really worked hard to get it right. But we knew we had it when Dr. King's wife gave her approval. It really felt good to have her approval. She was there when the design was unveiled and expressed she was very, very pleased with the overall design."
Wallace is set to leave Thursday for the festivities in Washington D.C. for the National dedication. Friday morning he'll speak at a private dedication where about 1,000 people will be present. Then Sunday hundreds of thousands of people will be present for the official public dedication. President Obama is scheduled to speak and Aretha Franklin to sing.
"I am very excited to have been a part of the process. I just hope can keep it all together. It's a lot of work of by a lot of people. And we would have liked to have made it happen faster, but it is now a reality. We didn't want to rush a project of the scope and magnitude," said Wallace. "When I'm there amidst all of it I hope I can keep it together. It's been a great experience to see it come from an idea, to a concept to giving birth to it and to finally see it as a tangible reality."