Monumental Errors

Can the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Campaign Be Saved?

The project has generally had very little money in the bank and very high expenses—travel bills were $154,338 for 2000, and $94,343 in 2001, according to IRS filings. There have been numerous changes of staffing, including at least four executive directors and three accountants. In 1999, the King Memorial Project hired the Alford Group Inc., a national fundraising consulting firm, "to coordinate internal and external fundraising efforts." Alford, which, according to the 2000 filing, was paid $331,440, studied the foundation's fundraising prospects and submitted recommendations, which, with one exception, were taken up only recently. Johnson would not then permit the director to recruit people for any of the three boards that Alford recommended they set up and said he would not have time to attend to the task himself for several months, according to Du Bois. Alford withdrew from the project; its president, Mark Dennis, was unavailable for an interview.

A professional fundraising firm does not appear on tax forms until the filing for 2001, which says the Development Resources firm was paid $200,000. When asked the name of the fundraiser on board, Johnson did not know offhand.

In 1999 the foundation sponsored an international competition for designs for the memorial and received nearly 900 proposals from dozens of countries. The winning design came from ROMA Design Group of San Francisco. According to documents obtained by the Voice, by February 2001 the architects were getting nervous about not having a finalized contract and continuing to make outlays for the project. In a letter to the foundation, Boris Dramov, a principal of the firm, asked about the contract and said ROMA could not continue to carry costs without "implications to our firm." This week, an upbeat Dramov denied there had been any problems and said, "We're intending to proceed with the implementation of the project." They have set up an entity called the Devrouax and Purnell/ROMA Design Group Joint Venture for the construction phase. "We have had a very good reception and support for the design from the NCPC, the CFA, and the National Park Service," said Dramov. "We don't have the kind of design issues that have plagued other projects on the mall."

illustration: Mirko Ilic´

All the same, according to a source close to the project, there were rancorous meetings with the three governing bodies, and at one session, a King foundation honcho tossed a book at someone at the table. The same groups will also be pivotal in obtaining an extension for the project.

"In order to raise millions of dollars, you need two things: excellent leaders and administration," says Du Bois. "There was a brief time when we had both. Now, it's a tragedy that once again, under the leadership of Harry Johnson, they don't have either one. I'd give anything to have them succeed, but at the moment . . ."

King deserves to be on the mall, but perhaps the Alphas need to look beyond themselves to make it happen. There is a memorable quote from 1957, when King himself chided the fraternity for wasting money that should have gone to the struggle. At an Alpha convention he attended, according to Taylor Branch's Parting the Waters, someone had announced, bragging, that the members had spent $500,000 on liquor. "A handful of Negroes," said King, " . . . spent more money in one week for whiskey than all of the 16 million Negroes spent that whole year for the United Negro College Fund and for the NAACP. Now that was a tragedy." Maybe the thousands of members of the fraternity of Paul Robeson and Thurgood Marshall need to make sure their leadership does it right.

« Previous Page