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July 30, 2014, 9:21 pm

City where Civil War began to get King memorial

  • Written by BRUCE SMITH
  • Published in News Headlines

CHARLESTON, S.C. — The city where the Civil War began and where tens of thousands were brought from Africa and sold into slavery is getting a memorial to slain civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King.

A neighborhood in the city is designated the Martin Luther King Memorial District but beyond that, and an annual parade and breakfast in his honor, there has been no public memorial in the city to King.

The Charleston City Council on Tuesday approved a memorandum of intent with the National Park Service to erect a memorial in Liberty Square.

The square is a park owned by the Park Service near the entrance to the Fort Sumter National Monument Visitors Center, where tourists board boats to visit the fort in Charleston Harbor. Confederate batteries laid siege to the fort in 1861, starting the Civil War.

The war led to the abolition of slavery and King helped lead a civil rights movement a century later to secure rights for African slaves' descendants and end segregation. Tens of thousands of slaves brought into the United States before the war were brought through Charleston.

"It's very important that Charleston has this monument," said Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr., who said King helped free both blacks and whites of the vestiges of slavery.

"Dr. King led the civil rights movement that gave freedom and opportunity and equality under law to African Americans. But he also liberated the country of segregation and Jim Crow and prejudice," Riley said.

A citizen's committee has been working on the memorial project for a decade.

Initially, other sites in Charleston were considered but Liberty Square was determined to be the best. The committee also negotiated with the King family and paid a modest fee for permission to put up a monument, the mayor said.

Then there was a new National Park Service policy about putting up monuments.

Under that policy, no commemorative works are allowed in any park, said Rick Dorrance, a member of the committee and chief of resource management at Fort Sumter.

"You can understand how many interest groups would like to have a monument to Uncle Jim or somebody," he said, adding the rules also include exceptions for exceptionally important and historically significant people.

Dorrance said the King monument should fall under that exception but permission will have to come from the director of the National Park Service.

That approval is expected in about six months, after which the committee plans a national design competition for the monument, expected to cost about $500,000, said committee chairman John Bleecker.

He said he expects the memorial could be finished in two years.

"For our generation right now it's important for us to put up a monument to Dr. King," Bleecker said. "There are kids growing up right now who don't look back and this is an important part of the history of Charleston." -- (AP)