Wednesday, October 5, 2022

One year after renewed interest, are we any closer to an MLK memorial in Williamsburg?

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

In summer 1962, civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visited Virginia’s Colonial Capital, speaking at the First Baptist Church on Scotland Street.

Just down the street from where King encouraged residents to keep pushing for civil rights, two greenish, wooden signs sit at the corner of Prince George and Scotland streets.

The signs read “Future site of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial” — and have sat for decades.

The conversation about building a memorial in honor of King began decades ago, possibly in the 1990s. While the two signs still mark the intersection as the future home of the memorial, little else has been done.

Over the last year, some city officials and NAACP leaders have joined together to make the memorial come to fruition. The site still looks the same, but more has been going on behind the scenes.

Mayor Paul Freiling said he has been working with NAACP Williamsburg chapter president Brian Smalls and former Vice Mayor Scott Foster to create a fundraising plan, identify possible locations, create a citizen committee and contact the organization that oversees the use of King’s name and images.

City Councilwoman Barbara Ramsey has also joined in the effort.

“It’s taken longer than we anticipated,” Freiling said. “Once we get plans laid out and a citizen committee in place, we’ll get things laid out at a quicker pace.

Freiling said a small amount of money has already been raised and set aside, although he did not have that figure immediately available Thursday. He said the project’s leaders intend to set up a subset of the city’s beautification fund with the Community Foundation to hold gift money for the project.

A design and project cost estimate have not been determined.

With budget season just around the corner, Freiling said the city will be able to discuss whether or not it will contribute money to the project.

The city has not committed money to the effort yet, but we will be discussing that as a group for the first time at our upcoming budget retreat,” Freiling said. “My sense from speaking individually to my council colleagues is that all are supportive, but we need to talk it through as a group.”

Freiling said the designated location for the memorial could change depending on community input. He hopes to see the location confirmed by January 2020, although the project’s final timeline has not been decided.

Freiling also hopes to see some money raised for the project by that point.

“Even if the city participates financially, we would like all residents of the greater area to have the opportunity to participate, because we believe strongly that this will be a memorial for the entire community,” Frieling said.

The citizen committee has not yet been created, but Freiling and others involved in the project have reached out to some community members to gauge their interest.

One of those members is Bobby Braxton, a former City Council member, Freiling said.

The mayor also hopes to speak with Hampton’s mayor, Donnie Tuck. Hampton recently built a Martin Luther King Jr. memorial and Freiling believes Tuck could lend some advice for the process.

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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