Friday, December 9, 2022

Decades later, where is Williamsburg’s Martin Luther King Jr. memorial?

Conyers said there were talks in the late 1980s or early 1990s about constructing a more "substantive" monument. (Steve Roberts, Jr./WYDaily)
Conyers said there were talks in the late 1980s or early 1990s about constructing a more “substantive” monument. (Steve Roberts, Jr./WYDaily)

Martin Luther King Jr. visited Williamsburg on a summer day in 1962, encouraging residents to continue the civil rights movement, and trust others along the way.

More than 55 years later, plans made to memorialize the civil rights leader are known only by a sign at the intersection of Scotland and Prince George streets, a short walk away from the First Baptist Church of Williamsburg.

But why was it never built?

Feet away from the sign indicating the planned King memorial is a separate memorial, an obelisk titled “MLK Triangle.” The Triangle was a densely populated section of the city with predominantly African-American business owners in the 19th century.

That MLK Triangle monument honors African Americans who lived and worked there, including Charles Edward Gary, a prominent owner of the West End Valet Shop off Prince George Street, and Samuel K. Harris, who was rumored to be the richest man in Williamsburg, according to Julia Woodbridge Oxrieder, author of Rich, Black, and Southern: The Harris family of Williamsburg (and Boston).

But the actual Martin Luther King Jr. memorial – the one that is now only represented by a wooden sign –  appears to have been a separate initiative.

Tony Conyers, a Williamsburg-area resident, says the conversation of a Martin Luther King Jr. memorial at that intersection dates back to the 1990s, possibly earlier.

“I know that [years] ago there was a plan to do something more substantive there, in terms of a memorial to King,” Conyers said.

(Steve Roberts, Jr./WYDaily)
(Steve Roberts, Jr./WYDaily)

Memories of the memorial and the people who tried to build it are largely based off other events in Williamsburg, like the construction and dedications of certain buildings, rather than a preserved and publicly documented history.

Conyers was not associated with the memorial, he said, as he was then a staff member for James City County, working “exclusively” on housing projects.

“I really wasn’t involved with that, either professionally or personally,” Conyers said.

While Conyers was distanced from the project, he listed several names of local people who may have been involved in the project, but many of those story leads have come to dead ends: disconnected phone numbers, people who have moved or passed away, and others who simply don’t have information.

WYDaily also called members of the local NAACP chapter, members of the First Baptist Church, city officials and other area residents.

The last time a permit was approved to build any monument on the Triangle property was in 2001, according to Lauri Springsteen, administrative services manager in the City Codes and Compliance Office.

The Architectural Review Board approved a permit for a monument, Springsteen said, but the sign stating the location is the “future home” of a Martin Luther King Jr. memorial still stands.

WYDaily is asking our readers to help us complete the story of why the Martin Luther King Jr. monument has yet to be built, and if there is a chance that it will still find a home on the Triangle in the future.


Please send any and all information about the monument to WYDaily’s Steve Roberts at steve@wydaily.com.

Steve Roberts contributed reporting.

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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