The memorial for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Downtown Williamsburg is finally making headway after decades since the idea was first conceived.
In the summer of 1962, the civil rights leader made a visit to the First Baptist Church on Scotland Street and to commemorate that event locals in the 1990s thought it would be a good idea to create a memorial in his honor.
A green sign was placed at the intersection of Scotland and Prince George streets with the words “Future Site of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.”
Little has been done since then to actually erect the monument.
Brian Smalls, a local attorney, has become chairman of the newly formed “Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Committee” and believes the work will finally bring the memorial to fruition.
“When the sign was first erected, I was just a little boy,” he said. “So I’m not sure why it’s taken this long. But now we have a good group of people who are prioritizing this project.”
This new committee is just one step in the direction to get the memorial constructed. Renewed interest in the project started last year when Williamsburg Mayor Paul Freiling started to work with the local chapter of the NAACP.
In January 2019, a cost and location had not yet been determined for the monument and this still holds true today.
However, the new committee is hoping to make progress on that front.
Smalls said the committee’s goal for 2020 is to come to a consensus on the direction of the project. He said the committee hopes to determine what the memorial will look like and how to make the character of the community a feature.
Determining community character in the memorial is part of what has taken so long for the committee not only to make decisions, but also to be formed.
The committee is a group of 11 people, including Smalls, from various backgrounds in Williamsburg. He said it was important when choosing committee members to consider diversity because while the memorial will be to honor Martin Luther King, Jr., it will also represent other significant civil rights activists in Williamsburg.
“The issue you always run into whenever you name a group of people is you always end up leaving somebody out,” he said. “We want to have a representative group of the people who paved the way for the accomplishments and achievements of folks in this community.”
To better understand the impact of the civil rights movement in Williamsburg, members of the committee attended an event in the fall where they heard stories from former Bruton Heights students. Bruton Heights was an African American school in Williamsburg in the 20th century.
“What we wanted to do is to recognize and honor people from the Williamsburg community,” Smalls said. “We wanted to get a good sense of the history that Williamsburg has had.”
He said the committee has also been working with individuals from William & Mary to get even more of a historical perspective.
That research is just the foundation for planning and designing a memorial. Smalls said there still isn’t a timeline or budget currently planned but those pieces of the project will fall into place as the committee decides how to best move forward.
So while the project remains in the early stages, Smalls said the community can anticipate that it will continue in the direction of completion.