WASHINGTON (AP) — After more than a quarter of a century of work to get a memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. on the National Mall, Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity brothers celebrated the results of their perseverance Friday even as Hurricane Irene churned up the East Coast.
Irene forced the postponement of a grand dedication ceremony planned for Sunday. But the fraternity brothers, clad in either black suits or gold blazers, went ahead with their own preplanned dedication on a smaller stage at the same site.
Large TV screens beamed the speeches, prayers and entertainment to an audience of hundreds — and to thousands of empty chairs. Crews worked nearby dismantling scaffolding and other equipment.
Martin Luther King III officially accepted the memorial to his father, who was gunned down in 1968. Also on hand were King Jr.’s youngest daughter, Bernice, and his sister, Christine King Farris.
King was a member of the fraternity, along with many prominent African-Americans. Alpha Phi Alpha members worked to get the memorial approved, and to raise money for the $120 million monument.
"God has been good to us, in spite of this city experiencing ... an earthquake and then hearing word that a Category 4 hurricane was coming," said Harry Johnson, a former Alpha Phi Alpha president and president of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation. "We have built something that has never been built before."
The monument to King sits between memorials to Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln — a spot where the Rev. Al Sharpton said King belongs.
"Welcome to the neighborhood Martin ... Get ready Mr. Lincoln, there’s a new neighbor ... Guess who’s coming to dinner," Sharpton said.
Led by a corps bearing black and gold flags, the fraternity brothers marched quietly to the memorial. Some wore gold ties, and brown fedoras favored by King.
John Carter, 62, of Atlanta, who spent four years in charge of the memorial project as a volunteer during the 1980s, got his first look at the monument Friday.
"It’s chilling," he said.
Alpha Phi Alpha brothers ended the event by serenading King’s granite likeness with the fraternity’s hymn.