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The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial is more than halfway complete, and the president of the foundation responsible for the project is confident it will be completed by Aug. 28, 2011 – the 48th anniversary of the slain civil rights leader’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

The Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation ( opened the site to the media Wednesday to provide a “hands on” update on the construction process at the four-acre plot on the north east corner of the Tidal Basin, between the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials.

“When we started construction a year ago, we never imagined that this project would take off at such warp speed toward completion,” Harry Johnson, president and CEO of the foundation, told reporters.

Ed Jackson, Jr., executive architect for the foundation, said the project would be a “living memorial” with a 600-foot inscription wall featuring quotes from King’s speeches and essays, including excerpts from his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech and famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

“We were looking for timeless messages from his work that would speak to future generations,” Jackson told

King’s words, “Out of a mountain of despair lies a stone of hope,” from his “I Have a Dream” speech, come to life in the centerpiece of the memorial, a path that will take visitors through “a mountain of despair” to “a stone of hope,” which bears a seven-story tall likeness of King emerging from the stone.

“The designers took that simple phrase, and gave it physical form,” Jackson said.

The sculpture is scheduled to be completed in about a month. The finished memorial will also have a bookstore and visitors center.

Johnson said the memorial is still $12 million short of the needed $120 million, but he was confident the money would come.

“We take donations of all kinds; we even have a program called Dream Keepers in which we let college students get involved by getting donations from their school as well,” Johnson said.

While the foundation has received strong corporate support from General Motors, Walmart, Tommy Hilfiger and others, the small contributions from average Americans, particularly in the African-American community, are important, too, Johnson said.

“Unlike some others, we’re not waiting on Superman to save us. We’re encouraging people to send in their $5, $10. We believe and I believe who should really pay for this memorial is anybody who has benefited from anything that Dr. King has ever said or done, and that’s everyone who is living and breathing,” Johnson said. “We don’t want to be left out.”

Johnson was asked if things had been smoothed over with the unions and artists who were offended that a Chinese artist was the lead sculptor on the project – and that he brought 10 Chinese artisans with him for the final phase of the project.

“We worked with the union to bring in additional stone masons to work with master Lei Yixin and his team,” Johnson said. “So they’re on site working with him, right now. So we’re proud of the fact that we’re being inclusive with this memorial.”

He added that it was important that the King Memorial be seen not just as an African-American memorial, but an international memorial dedicated to a man of peace whose message reached not just across America, but around the world.

The foundation conducted an International Design Competition to capture the world’s perspective of Martin Luther King Jr. and his heroism. The submissions narrowed from 900 to 21, and the final concept was accepted from Roma Design Group of San Francisco, California.

Sculptor Lei is being assisted by a team that includes black artists Jon Lockard and Ed Hamilton. Angela Fortson, …..