On Aug. 28, the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial makes its debut on the National Mall with a star-studded concert and dedication ceremony featuring President Barack Obama, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Jennifer Hudson and Jamie Foxx. The 30-foot granite sculpture, enclosed by a wall etched with 14 of King's most notable quotes, is a project 15 years — and $120 million — in the making.
Actually, the job of fundraising continues, since the memorial is still $6 million short of its goal. Yet Harry Johnson, president and CEO of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation, says he's not worried.
"I'm very pleased with the amount of money we've raised to date, and with the many people who have donated to this memorial," Johnson told The Root. "There are always other good causes to donate to, and in these economic times it's a sacrifice to donate to anything at all. The first week we were ready to go public with our fundraising efforts, 9/11 occurred. A few years later, the [South Asian] tsunami occurred. After that, Hurricane Katrina happened. I came to understand that manmade and natural disasters are going to occur, and you just have to persevere."
Most of the memorial's major donations have come from dozens of corporations and organizations, including these:
General Motors: $10 million
Tommy Hilfiger: $6 million
Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity: $3.5 million
NBA: $3 million
Walt Disney Co.: $2.7 million
Verizon: $2 million
General Electric: $1.2 million
FedEx: $1 million
NFL Players Association: $1 million
Viacom/BET/MTV: $1 million
Wal-Mart: $1 million
Morehouse College: $500,000
Procter & Gamble: $431,200
American Federation of Teachers: $300,000
Lehman Brothers: $250,000
Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority: $170,000
Delta Sigma Theta Sorority: $137,000
General Mills: $100,000
The Embassy of South Africa: $100,000
A handful of individual donors have also come through. Among these names are BET co-founder Sheila Johnson ($1 million), filmmaker George Lucas ($1 million), rock guitarist Carlos Santana and his ex-wife Deborah ($100,000), and Bill and Melinda Gates through their foundation ($3 million).
Noticeably absent from the list of major contributors, however, are some of the more well-known African-American figures of great wealth. In 2004 the memorial foundation assembled what it called a "dream team" of celebrities who lent their faces and names to public service announcements raising awareness and support for the memorial.
The illustrious group included Angela Bassett, Morgan Freeman, Whoopi Goldberg, Muhammad Ali, Samuel L. Jackson, Al Roker and Laurence Fishburne. Oprah Winfrey and Maya Angelou, furthermore, participated in the memorial's 2006 groundbreaking ceremony. But despite their heavy presence in the memorial's marketing, none of these names seems to have made the list of financial donors contributing $100,000 or more.
The incongruity isn't that surprising to Susan Batten, president and CEO of the Association of Black Foundation Executives, which promotes effective philanthropy in black communities.
"African-American giving in general tends to focus on two very specific areas — giving to religious organizations and giving to educational issues," Batten told The Root, adding that those top two areas are fairly consistent across racial and ethnic groups. "I don't know that that differs by economic status, but when you think about folks like Oprah, Bill Cosby and Maya Angelou, education is a pretty common thing in their own individual philanthropy."
Batten contends that it was smart strategy for the memorial foundation to appeal to corporations. "Corporate grant makers are inclined to give to issues around diversity and inclusion because corporations understand the business case of giving to causes that involve the diverse, emerging demographics of this country," she explained. "It's an issue of brand and marketing for them."
Still, there's no question that the memorial foundation has also cultivated relationships with wealthy individuals — even if those efforts to date haven't been so successful. But Batten predicts that, with just another $6 million to go, that could change. "Cultural causes and institutions, like museums, often come up in the top three or four priorities," she said. "Larger black donors may be more likely to fill the gap in funding now that significant dollars have been raised."