WASHINGTON – Rep. Constance Morella and Sen. Paul Sarbanes have joined forces with Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity to build a monument honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington, D.C.
“I think it would be exceedingly appropriate to have this memorial in the nation’s capital,” said Morella, R-Montgomery.
Morella and Rep. Julian Dixon, D-Calif., introduced a bill last month that would permit Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity to construct a monument to King on federal land.
The bill, which has already gained more than 60 cosponsors in the House, also states that the fraternity would be solely responsible for funding the memorial and that no federal funds would be used for it.
Sarbanes, D-Md., introduced similar legislation in the Senate in February. His bill, cosponsored by Sen. John Warner, R- Va., authorizes a King memorial in the District or on surrounding federal lands.
“This memorial will be a simple but powerful tribute to the extraordinary life and achievements of Dr. King,” Sarbanes said, adding that the monument would give proper recognition to King’s two-pronged message of inclusion and nonviolent social change.
The bills have been referred to the Senate Rules and House Oversight committees, with action expected later this year, Morella and a Senate staffer said.
Members of Alpha Phi Alpha, the oldest predominantly African-American fraternity in the United States, began the drive for a memorial in 1984. One goal was to create a central location for commemorative activities on King’s behalf, said George Sealey Jr., an Alpha Phi Alpha member and chairman of the King monument project.
Coretta Scott King, widow of the slain civil rights leader, supported the monument for the first time this year, Sealey and Morella said. King could not be reached Tuesday, the 27th anniversary of her husband’s death.
A bill authorizing the use of federal land for the monument passed the Senate in 1992, Sarbanes said. It died in the House.
A previous impediment to passage has been a House rule that a person must be dead for 25 years before a monument can be constructed in his/her honor.
“We feel optimistic about both houses this time,” said Sealey. “We believe we have a good chance of getting this bill through both houses this year.”
Sealey said the group has not chosen a location for the monument but added he would like to see it near the east end of the Ellipse, close to the spot where King delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech nearly 32 years ago.
Alpha Phi Alpha, which was formed at Cornell University in 1906 and included King among its members, has raised more than $30,000 in local donations toward the memorial.
If the measure passes Congress, Sealey said, the group will likely hire a professional fund-raiser and start a national effort to attract donations.
Morella, whose congressional district includes one of the biggest Alpha Phi Alpha chapters in Maryland, said she was asked to help by fraternity members from Montgomery County. “This is very important to me,” she said. “I have friends who are Alphas.” -30-