Donations for MLK Memorial See Big Jump

Donations for a planned memorial to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington have jumped since the recent deaths of civil rights icons Rosa Parks and King's widow, Coretta Scott King.

To date, $58 million has been raised for the $100 million project, with more than $4.5 million collected in just one recent week. By comparison, the campaign took in just over $5 million in all of 2004.

Harry E. Johnson Sr., president of the nonprofit group behind the project, told The Associated Press that the death of Parks in October and Coretta Scott King in January clearly inspired people to contribute to the memorial.

"What's happening is that people across the country see ... that we ought to do something to recognize that era in time that changed the way we're able to live in this country and, indeed, the world," Johnson said.

The Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial would be the first major tribute to the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize winner outside his hometown of Atlanta, where he was born in 1929. The memorial would be on the National Mall between the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials.

The project still is short of the amount needed to break ground by year's end, which would put it on track to be completed in 2008.

Capitalizing on the recent momentum, organizers hope to stage several fundraising dinners this year in such cities as Atlanta, Houston, St. Louis, New York and Memphis, Tenn., where King was killed on April 4, 1968. The "Dream Dinners" will especially target corporate donors.

Fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger, who has donated $5 million, plans to host one of the dinners this fall in New York, said Guy Vickers, president of the Tommy Hilfiger Corporate Foundation. "We believe in it because of what Dr. King stood for," he said.

Hilfiger attended Coretta Scott King's funeral in February, and Vickers said her passing brings a sense of urgency to the cause.

"What a tribute it would be to her to make sure we do finish this," he said.

Most of the money raised so far has come from corporate donors, including $10 million from General Motors and $9 million from the Ad Council. Last year, Congress approved $10 million for the project.

Other fundraising efforts include Internet marketing — where donors can purchase a $5 "Build the Dream" blue rubber bracelet or a $25 T-shirt — and grassroots efforts such as reaching out to churches and a "Kids for King" drive.