The University Record, February 5, 2001

Two from University help select design of King Memorial

By Joanne Nesbit
News and Information Services

James Chaffers asks the audience where they might place the man (MLK), his message and his movement on the geometric diagram shown above. Photos by Martin Vloet, U-M Photo Services
James Chaffers, professor of architecture, and John Lockard, adjunct lecturer in Afroamerican and African studies, were among the jurors who decided the winner of the Martin Luther King Memorial design contest. They helped determine the criteria for entries and then helped judge the more than 1,000 submissions from 27 different countries.

The two recounted their work on committees and as jurors to students in the first of the winter term Faculty Colloquium Series sponsored by the Center for Afro-american and African Studies.

“Why me?” Lockard asked when he was tapped as a juror. “I’m the only artist in the group. But this has been an awesome experience, a real privilege working with my friend Jim and people who have wisdom and foresight—people who could take the deeper meaning of a Dr. King and transform it into a moving physical presence so people could be a part of a living legacy.”

Though the actual memorial isn’t scheduled for completion until summer 2005, Chaffers says this is actually a pretty fast pace, considering it has been in the works only since 1997.

“The Roosevelt Memorial took 50 years from idea to completion,” Chaffers says. “And if a memorial is to have any value at all, it has to become a place of destination.”

The president and Congress must sanction the building of a memorial. President Clinton did that via a proclamation, which demands that fund raising for the project be conducted by Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., the sole authority to accept contributions and pay expenses for the memorial. No federal funds may be used.

Where the MLK Memorial would be located was the subject of long and involved discussions with such entities as the Fine Arts Commission, the National Capital Planning Commission and the National Parks Service, which is responsible for the maintenance of all such memorials and has veto power over the other commissions and committees.

It took Chaffers, Lockard and the rest of the jurors three days to consider the 1,013 memorial design entries set up among the seats in Washington, D.C.’s, MCI Center. But it took only four hours to get the count down to about 400 serious contenders, Chaffers said. Then the work got tough.

In the end, the jurors chose a two-level memorial plan submitted by ROMA Design Group of San Francisco. Excerpts from some of King’s speeches will be etched into the stone of the memorial, and water will flow over and around the words.

The memorial will be located along the Tidal Basin on a four-acre site adjacent to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial and on a direct line between the Lincoln and the Jefferson memorials. From the site, there are views of the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial.

King will be the first African American and only the second nonpresident to be so honored in this historic area.