November 10, 2010

City of Ithaca Raises Funds For New MLK Freedom Walk

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City officials kicked off a campaign on Tuesday to fund the Martin Luther King, Jr. Freedom Walkway, which could transform the face of the Ithaca Commons.

If completed, the walkway would consist of “several sculptures, plaques, benches and inlaid sidewalk medallions” providing “an intimate look into the events, people and organizations … that connect us with the ideals of civil rights … envisioned by Dr. King,” according to a pamphlet distributed at Tuesday’s meeting.

Chairman of the Martin Luther King Freedom Walkway Committee Leslyn McBean-Clairborne said the city of Ithaca had given the project a $20,000 “contingency fund,” but that most of the walkway’s funding would need to come from grants or outside donors.

McBean-Clairborne said the committee is “just getting started” in its goal to raise $500,000, adding “we’re not anywhere close to that goal.”

“We definitely see this as an economic development opportunity,” said McBean-Clairborne, who added that the walkway would likely bring tourists to Ithaca.

She also said the project would “put life back into history,” citing Ithaca’s history as an “undocumented stop” on the Underground Railroad and a place where Frederick Douglass spoke out against slavery.

The walkway would begin with a current edifice, the Alex Haley — author of Roots: The Saga of an American Family — monument currently located on North Court and North Albany Streets.

Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-22nd) filed a $300,000 appropriations request for the project to see if the federal government could siphon earmark funding to the project.

The appropriation was requested “because it was a priority identified by leaders in the City of Ithaca,” Michael Morosi, Hinchey’s Press Secretary said.

The walkway will also feature a full Martin Luther King, Jr. sculpture by local artist Rob Licht.

Licht said a private donor put up most of the funding to get the project started, but Licht still needs $7,000 to complete his project.

Licht said the sculpture would be a “very important piece” of the walkway.

The sculpture will be “sort of [be] like Mount Rush­more,” with “heads projecting out of rock” and King’s “face profiled against a shimmering stainless steel waterfall.”

On its base will be imprinted a quote from King: “We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

The Martin Luther King Walkway resulted from the city of Ithaca’s early discussion about whether  to change the name of State Street to Martin Luther King Street. Ultimately the decision was made to dually name the street.

Original Author: Jeff Stein