THE three towering figures of American history George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln will shortly be joined by a fourth, with ground broken for a national memorial to civil rights leader Martin Luther King.
Nearly 5,000 people braved winter chills to gather around a 4-acre site on Washington's National Mall on Monday (local time) where a 30-foot statue of King, surrounded by a circle of stone blocks upon which his most famous speeches will be inscribed, is to be erected.
The ground-breaking ceremony was led by US President George W. Bush and attended by members of King's family, as well as former president Bill Clinton, African-American celebrities including talk show host Oprah Winfrey and civil rights activists.
King, who led resistance to the racist segregationist laws of the southern US, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.He was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4 1968.
"The King Memorial will stand on a piece of ground between the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials," Bush said. "By its presence in this place, it will unite the men who declared the promise of America and defended the promise of America with the man who redeemed the promise of America."
Construction will officially begin on the US$100 million memorial, the first US monument to an African-American, in the spring. It is expected to be finished in 2008.