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Black Fraternity to Build D.C. King Memorial

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 12, 1997 – The Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity's dream of honoring its most illustrious brother is on its way to becoming reality. Congress authorized the nation's oldest and largest Greek-letter African-American fraternity to build a memorial to their frat brother -- Martin Luther King Jr. -- in the nation's capital.

The fraternity has 700 chapters in 42 states and more than 100,000 members.

The King Memorial is a dream of 74-year-old retired Army Maj. George H. Sealey Jr. The fraternity adopted his proposal for the memorial at a 1984 convention in Cleveland and reaffirmed it a year later during its convention in Atlanta. Sealey chaired Alpha's effort to build the memorial.

"Martin Luther King Jr. became a frat brother in Boston in 1952," Sealey noted. "Not only was he an Alpha, he led one of the greatest social and economic changes in the United States in more than 100 years.

"During much of Dr. King's struggle, I was director of the Peace Corps in western Nigeria," said Sealey. "I felt a commitment to Dr. King since I wasn't here to walk the streets and take part in the demonstrations. I owe it to Dr. King and the black community to perpetuate his legacy. We want to keep Dr. King alive for history."

Reps. Connie Morella of Maryland and Julian Dixon of California introduced the bipartisan legislation in the House. Maryland Sen. Paul Sarbanes and Virginia Sen. John Warner sponsored the Senate bill.

The bill passed unanimously in the House and went through the Senate on Oct. 3, 1996, as part of the Omnibus Parks and Public Lands Management Act.

The Senate passed two earlier bills allowing the memorial, but they died in the House. "The biggest obstacle was the House of Representatives' rule that you can't build a memorial until a person had been dead for 25 years," Sealey noted.

The proposal authorizes the fraternity to erect a Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on federal land in the District of Columbia.

Sealey credits many individuals and organizations with helping to get the monument bill through Congress, including the Congressional Hispanic, Asian Pacific American and Black caucuses and women's groups. King's widow, Coretta Scott King, joined Alpha's drive this year.

"No American in our history has embodied more genuinely the spirit of brotherhood and cooperation so desperately needed in facing the social and economic problems that plague our nation today," Morella said. "Dr. King challenged us to envision a world in which social justice and peace will prevail among all people. This memorial will provide a symbol of that message and will help pass that message from generation to generation."

"A memorial to Dr. King erected in the nation's capital will provide continuing inspiration to all who visit it," Sarbanes said. "We hope young people who visit the monument will come to understand that it recognizes not only the enormous contribution of this great civil rights leader, but also two very basic principles for the healthy functioning of our society which Dr. King taught and practiced."

"King made the greatest impact on social and economic changes in this country and the world that few people have done during my lifetime," Sealey said. "We're closing in on the 21st century and the president is talking about building bridges. It's important that the African-American community also build bridges to the next century, and this memorial will clearly help do that for us and the nation."

The fraternity plans to launch a fundraising campaign and a nationwide design contest on Jan. 15, 1997, King's birthday. Many individuals and organizations have agreed to help, including the Pan-Hellenic Organization -- a group of African-American fraternities and sororities.

"We don't know exactly how much the memorial will cost, perhaps $1.5 to $2 million," Sealey said. The fraternity hopes to put the memorial near the Lincoln Memorial, where King delivered his historic 'I Have a Dream' speech in 1963.

For more information, write to:
Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
Alpha Phi Alpha
P.O. Box 94
1422 K St. NW
Washington, DC 20005.

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