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Making the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

Architect Ed Jackson Jr. leads construction


En español | Ed Jackson Jr. spends most of his waking hours toiling inside a construction trailer on a dusty lot in Southwest Washington, D.C. His job description might read as follows: "Capture architectural lightning in a bottle, in a way that memorializes an iconic U.S. figure and effortlessly conveys his peace-loving, egalitarian ethos to millions of people."

See also: MLK's 'I Have a Dream' speech remembered.

A tall order, to be sure, but not one that intimidates Jackson, 61, who is the executive architect for the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial. Fifteen years in the making, the four-acre, $120 million project abuts the Tidal Basin and is on a direct line between the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials. It will be officially dedicated on Aug. 28.

"We felt it was important for us to have a memorial that reminded every generation what our goals and objectives are, and what we should be trying to achieve as a nation, as a society, as human beings on this planet," says Jackson, who received a doctor of architecture degree from the University of Michigan in 1993.

Jackson believes all of the above will be found in the finished King memorial. It's to be a tour de force of complementary design elements, including a 600-foot long, crescent-shaped granite inscription wall containing 14 notable quotes and statements made by the civil rights leader from 1955 to 1968. There's also a 30-foot tall statue of King.

The project represents a dramatic career shift for Jackson, who spent most of his architectural life as an Army officer designing military health care facilities. But lest anyone think that the King memorial is a capstone for Jackson, it's much more than that — it's a labor of love.

From idea to reality

A member of Alpha Phi Alpha, the African American college fraternity to which King belonged, Jackson was out of the Army by 1996 and had a civilian architecture job in the Washington area. That year, during a conversation with six frat brothers in Silver Spring, Md., Jackson was posed with a challenge: Could he design a memorial for King?

"They had envisioned a project that was probably for $2 million and could be done in two years," Jackson recalls. He said nothing initially, but in Jackson's view "the project had to be significantly larger … to make the kind of statement that would be equivalent to the contribution that [King] had made, not only to America but to a world stage."

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