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Who Gave to the MLK Memorial in D.C. and Who Did Not? The List Surprising

Multinational corporations such as General Motors and corporate tycoons head the list of the largest donors toward the construction of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial in Washington, D.C.

On Aug. 28, President Obama will lead a phalanx of dignitaries and celebrities, including Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Star Wars’ George Lucas, Jamie Foxx and Jennifer Hudson, to  unveil the 30-foot granite sculpture of King on the National Mall with a series of concerts, events and the dedication ceremony.

Harry S. Johnson, the former president of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. that received permission from President Bill Clinton to begin construction of the the MLK Memorial, is now the president and CEO of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project. He told rolling out in December 2010 that the project was $12 million short of the $120 million needed to complete the project. And with about a week to go until the historic ceremony, the MLK Memorial has only made up half of that debt total.

This is just a partial list of entities and individuals who’ve contributed considerable sums toward the completion of the MLK Memorial:

General Motors: $10 million

Tommy Hilfiger: $6 million

Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity: $3.5 million

NBA: $3 million

Bill and Melinda Gates: $3 million

Walt Disney Co.: $2.7 million

Toyota: $2.5 million

Verizon: $2 million

Delta Airlines: $1.5 million

General Electric: $1.2 million

FedEx: $1 million

Sheila Johnson, BET co-founder: $1 million

NFL Players Association: $1 million

George Lucas, Star Wars creator: $1 million

Viacom/BET/MTV: $1 million

Wal-Mart: $1 million

Morehouse College: $500,000

CBS: $500,000

Procter & Gamble: $431,200

American Federation of Teachers: $300,000

Lehman Brothers: $250,000

Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority: $170,000

Delta Sigma Theta Sorority: $137,000

General Mills: $100,000

The Embassy of South Africa: $100,000

Some would be surprised at the names that did not make the list of $100,000 contributors. Seven years ago, Johnson said he established what he called a “dream team” of entertainers who leveraged their fame to help with the fundraising campaign. But they, for whatever reason, did not contribute a large amount to the memorial construction:

Oprah Winfey

Muhammad Ali

Angela Bassett

Samuel L. Jackson

Laurence Fishburne

Al Roker

Maya Angelou

Whoopi Goldberg

This is not to cast aspersions at any of these African American celebrities. We know, for example, that Muhammad Ali risked his freedom, his career and his life when he spurned Christianity and the Vietnam draft to align himself with Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam in the fight for human rights in the 1960s. Samuel L. Jackson was kicked off Morehouse College campus temporarily in the ’70s when, as a student, he helped hold Martin Luther King’s father and others hostage and demanded a more  African-centered curriculum. Bill Cosby and Oprah Winfrey have donated tens of millions of their own money toward the establishment and maintenance of schools domestically and abroad.

Black philanthropy tends to focus almost exclusively in two specific areas: education and religious institutions. And now that we have arrived at the 11th hour of the MLK Memorial construction, blacks of means will probably help close that conspicuous $6 million gap, according to Susan Batten, president and CEO of the Association of Black Foundation Executives.

terry shropshire


  1. SugaBeezyBaby!!! on August 18, 2011 at 6:26 pm

    Wow how unfair, so what they did not contribute cash to a dead man’s legacy, I no many of those celebrities, Winfrey !st are contributing to the living !!! We as Black American’s always want to focus on inter-cultural hating!! I am curious to no how much cash Rolling Out, contributed? More importantly Mr. Shropshire. Blackthoughtzzz!!!

    • Jtshrop on August 18, 2011 at 8:46 pm

      English comprehension was never your strong point, Blackthoughtzzz, and your response is tragically reflective of that.  

      • Zlinly on August 19, 2011 at 12:50 am

        I agree with him

      • gordan on August 19, 2011 at 1:36 am

        grammar aside….he/she has a point….and your total focus on the grammar and not the content is “tragically reflective on YOU”

        • Terry on August 19, 2011 at 4:19 am

           Gordon, thank you for your response. I, however, mentioned English comprehension and not grammar. I’m not criticizing his spelling aptitude. I mention the fact that I gave praise to the individuals who have been listed as not contributing to the MLK Memorial because they have fought on different fronts, as I thought I stated in detail. But since you failed to mention what is “tragically reflective” of me, I cannot even begin a discussion on the topic itself. Please elaborate.

      • gordan on August 19, 2011 at 1:36 am

        grammar aside….he/she has a point….and your total focus on the grammar and not the content is “tragically reflective on YOU”

  2. Frederick Penn on August 23, 2011 at 12:54 am

    This money question of who contributed and who didn’t isn’t the question! The question is why didn’t the Black church that receives over $1.5 billion dollars a year in cash from Black women and men make major donations? There are more Black churches in America than Black businesses. We’re the only race in America with that shocking statistic. The Black church is now the Black man’s greatest income source and career in the USA. 

    • Pastorvee522 on August 24, 2011 at 2:52 pm

      Even during the time of Dr.Kings work…the black church as an “institution” was not solidly behind him…members were…not the denominational leadership. As a pastor in an African American denomination…I contributed…but the church I pastored during the campaign never received a letter…I am sure the large ones did…but the common church…whose contribution may have been minimal…were not contacted. Fyi…The black church is not one big corporate entity….it is comprised of many individual congregations…some who adhere to a larger governing body…others who don’t. While I agree that more churches should have been visible here…the large majority of those who made large contributions were not on the front line of the.
      Struggle for equality…and often they represent those whom we struggle against today…guilt pays too!

      • Jtshrop on September 25, 2011 at 2:49 pm

        Pastorvee522, You are quite correct, which is why it sickens me to hear so many fake folk talk about how they marched with Dr. King when they know full well they were on the other side of the street, opposing King and his “disruptive” politics. The black church should be ashamed.