Wall St. and Business Wednesdays: Viacom Gives $1.5 Million to MLK Project

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Media conglomerate Viacom Inc., which owns BET and MTV, announced a donation Tuesday valued at $1.5 million to help build a memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. on the National Mall.

Viacom pledged $1 million in cash plus promotions for the memorial that will include public service announcements across the company's networks and its billboards in New York's Times Square, Chief Executive Officer Philippe Dauman said.

In response, the foundation working to build the memorial named Viacom the title sponsor for the musical benefit Dream Concert scheduled for Sept. 18 at New York's Radio City Music Hall.

''We are very keen to have our company, our entire employee population really live the messages of diversity, inclusion and justice that Dr. King stood for,'' Dauman said.

The benefit concert will feature such headliners as Garth Brooks, Aretha Franklin, Queen Latifah, Kenny ''Babyface'' Edmonds and Stevie Wonder. Tickets range from $250 to $1,000.

The memorial will be built near the Tidal Basin between the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials. It will include a sculpture of King and 14 quotations from the slain civil rights leader and Nobelist.

The project had been scheduled for completion in late 2008 but likely will be pushed back until 2009 because of delays with the design process, said Harry Johnson, president and CEO of the Martin Luther King National Memorial Project Foundation Inc.

The foundation has raised $82 million of the $100 million needed to complete and maintain the memorial, Johnson said. Organizers hope the Viacom gift and promotions for the Dream Concert will build momentum for the final leg of fundraising.

''Every time we get a large donor, it definitely helps spur others and bring others to the table,'' Johnson said.

The Houston attorney has been fending off criticism recently over the group's selection of a Chinese sculptor for the statue of King. Some have said a black artist should have been chosen to sculpt the first monument to a black leader on the National Mall.

In February, the memorial foundation announced Lei Yixin, one of nine sculptors considered national treasures in China, would carve King's likeness in the memorial's 28-foot granite ''Stone of Hope.''

Since then, one group has drafted a petition and started a Web site called ''King Is Ours,'' calling the selection a ''travesty of justice.''

''For us, with an African-American driven project, for us to then say we shouldn't use somebody because of the color of their skin and not the content of their character ... to me that's a very bigoted thought, which really goes against, in my viewpoint, what Dr. King stood for,'' Johnson said.

Bronze sculptor Ed Dwight, who also was the first black astronaut, told the Los Angeles Times he was pushed aside from the King project because the foundation hoped the selection of a Chinese sculptor would result in a $25 million donation. Johnson said that wasn't true, noting that Dwight doesn't sculpt granite.

''We have never, never contacted the embassy of China, anybody in China or any companies in China asking for a dime,'' Johnson said.

Editor's Note - Visit:

The Washington, D.C. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation:


King is Ours: http://kingisours.com/

Wednesday, August 15, 2007