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Change date of MLK Memorial dedication

Updated: November 24, 2011 12:25AM

There are no coincidences in life.

You’ve heard that before, right? Even so, we almost never act on our premonitions until it is too late to matter.

Still, it is getting harder for me to ignore a string of unfortunate circumstances that have marred the official dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The fact that the King Memorial Foundation did not find an African-American sculptor to memorialize the country’s most honored black man was unfortunate.

The fact that the Foundation, which has raised $114 million so far, had to pay the King family $800,000 to use his likeness was unfortunate.

The fact that literary giant Maya Angelou said the paraphrased quotes used on the memorial made King look like an “arrogant twit” was unfortunate.

But the delay in the official dedication may prove to be the most unfortunate circumstance of them all.

After a tremendous build-up, the original dedication date of Aug. 28 had to be scuttled because of Hurricane Irene.

That was a real bummer because that date marked the 48th anniversary of the “March on Washington” and King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.

Although thousands of people have visited the memorial since it was opened to the public on Aug. 22, an official ceremony is now planned for Oct. 16.

That date is significant as well.

Oct. 16 marks the 16th anniversary of the Million Man March.

But mixing the celebration of King’s legacy and the recognition of an event that brought nearly a million black men to Washington is a lot like mixing oil and vinegar.

Indeed, the dedication of the King Memorial will force black people to confront the conflicts that still exist between those who ascribed to King’s teachings and those who believed that the more radical doctrines espoused by the late Malcolm X and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan held the key to black independence.

That’s an unfortunate circumstance for President Barack Obama, who is slated to speak at the delayed dedication. In fact, Farrakhan is the name that Obama dare not speaketh.

Last March, in a fiery speech supporting Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi, Farrakhan cautioned Obama that he was being used by whites to oppress his own people in Africa.

And during Obama’s quest for the Democratic nomination, he was forced to denounce Farrakhan because the controversial leader is considered to be an “anti-Semite” by Jewish organizations.

But Farrakhan’s popularity among young black men is credited in part with drawing more black people to the National Mall for the Million Man March than those who attended the historic civil rights march in 1963.

If Obama neglects to mention this seminal event — and Farrakhan’s contribution to it — in his remarks about King, it would likely be seen by some blacks as a slight.

Harry E. Johnson Sr., CEO and president of the MLK Foundation, did not respond to my request for an interview on this subject. Farrakhan also did not respond to a request to be interviewed for this column.

But the MLK Memorial Foundation has not yet updated its website with the new date, and organizers are still trying to line up celebrity sponsors.

It is not too late for them to choose a different dedication date.

Since the fancy galas and dinners are over, the delayed dedication is expected to draw a much smaller crowd. In fact, the National Park Service told the Associated Press that organizers have applied for a permit to accommodate only 50,000 people.

That can’t be a coincidence.

As I said in an earlier column, King was too humble a man to appreciate all the hoopla that has surrounded the memorial. He would have been embarrassed that his adult children were compensated for letting the MLK Memorial Foundation use his likeness and appalled that $114 million was poured into stone when the greatest number of Americans in a half-century are tumbling into poverty.

It is too late to change any of that.

But it is not too late to pick a dedication date that does not set the president up or turn this long-awaited celebration into a controversy.

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