Friday, December 8, 2023

City and NAACP look to build Martin Luther King Jr. memorial

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

At the intersection of Prince George and Scotland streets in the City of Williamsburg, two long-standing signs could soon be replaced with a memorial to one of the Civil Rights era leaders: Martin Luther King Jr.

Community and civic leaders are beginning discussions on the creation of a monument to King decades after a pair of signs were installed declaring the intersection the ‘future site of the Martin Luther King, Jr memorial.’

“He [King] has had such a big impact on our nation and in the world, but right here in our very own community,” said local NAACP chapter president Brian Smalls. “It is time for him to have the opportunity to be memorialized here with a monument.”

Smalls said he remembers driving by the two signs as a child, headed to the First Baptist Church on Sundays, and he hopes there’ll be a day soon when his children can see more than the signs, rather, a monument dedicated to King’s legacy.

“I’m really looking forward to the day we’ve got the monument,” Smalls said. “My kids are 9 and 10, certainly they’ll be there the day it’s dedicated. They’ll be able to look at that for the rest of their lives here in Williamsburg.”

For the city’s vice-mayor, the monument is long overdue.

“We need to recognize how far we have come as a society, while acknowledging that we still have very far to go,” said Vice-Mayor Scott Foster, before adding “this monument would be there to do both.”

Though the monument won’t be built overnight, Foster said, community engagement will drive “this project to fruition.”

Foster wants the monument to be built and dedicated by the end of 2019, but he called that timeline “ambitious.”

“It is my goal for this to be a community-driven effort, not a unilateral action by the city,” Foster said. “We will assist in getting the process started…but this is ultimately the community’s monument.”

The monument could be at least partially funded by the city, Mayor Paul Freiling wrote in an email, but “[City] Council has not formally decided anything.”

Other councilors have been supportive of the monument, Freiling wrote, but it’s too early in the process to know how much involvement the city will have financially.

Freiling hopes the community also steps up to make the monument more than a dream, but a reality in the city.

While Freiling and Foster hope to encourage community involvement, Smalls is looking to promote any future monument with the idea that the memorial be for “all-generations.”

King’s legacy of perseverance against racism and his relentless demand for equality should live on in the hearts of anyone who sees the monument, according to Smalls.

“It’s definitely time that we pay tribute to him in this community,” Smalls said.

To contact the reporter, email

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