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Harry E. Johnson, Sr. president and CEO of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation, announced Thursday evening that Sunday’s formal dedication of the memorial on the National Mall had been postponed following forecasts that Hurricane Irene was bearing down on the East Coast and was expected to be a major storm.

“In consultation with the National Park Service, the mayor’s office and FEMA, it is with a heavy heart and enormous disappointment that we announce that, in the interest of public safety, we are forced to change our plans,” Johnson said at a 7:30 p.m. news conference.

Several hours earlier, Johnson had declared, “We’re going forth with our program. We will bring you back tomorrow to talk about if, in fact, we’ll have any change, but today we’re still confident that we’re moving forward with the dedication of the Martin Luther King Memorial.”

At the time, forecasts called for heavy rains on Saturday, but no rain on Sunday morning, when the ceremony was set to begin. Sometime after Johnson met with reporters, however, the National Weather Service predicted major thunderstorms for the area and predicted the area could be hard hit by the coming hurricane.

By 6:30 p.m., reporters got word of a 7:30 p.m. news conference.

While Friday’s schedule remains unchanged, there were other adjustments for the activities leading up to Sunday’s dedication.

On Saturday, the National Prayer Service – the final official event of dedication week – will  be held at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception instead of the National Cathedral, which sustained damage earlier in the week when a 5.9 earthquake hit Washington and much of the East coast.

“We have worked with the Park Service to ensure that the memorial will be open to the public, weather permitting, on Saturday. The Memorial will be open Saturday from 7:00 a.m. to 12 noon,” Johnson said. “Finally, the official dedication ceremony will be moved to a date yet determined in September or October. We will announce those details when we have them.”

Johnson thanked the Foundation staff, sponsors and the public for making the memorial “a reality.”

“In the words of Dr. King, ‘We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.’ With that in mind, let’s remember the spirit of the Memorial – justice, democracy, hope and love,” he said.


Friday, Aug. 26

Partners In the Dream (Exhibit Hall) MLK Store

Washington Convention Center

Hall D

9 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Women Who Dare to Dream Luncheon

Washington Convention Center

12:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 27

National Prayer Service

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

10 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.