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Hip-Hop mogul Russell Simmons, Hilfiger, Ford Motors and others raise $65 mil for King memorial

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial back in 1963 to a mostly black audience.

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial back in 1963 to a mostly black audience. Now, 38 years after the civil rights leader's murder, a diverse group of celebrities, corporate leaders and ordinary Americans are working to build a memorial honoring the civil rights leader just a half-mile from Lincoln's statue. It will be the first monument to an African American on the National Mall.

The location is flanked by the Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and Franklin D. Roosevelt memorials near the eastern edge of the Potomac River Tidal Basin. From a distance, visitors can see the stairs where King delivered his most famous speech during the March on Washington on Aug. 28, 1963.

"He's an American hero, and beyond that he's a hero for all sorts of people," said poet and novelist Maya Angelou, who is scheduled to join Oprah Winfrey and others who have been working for more than a decade to help build the monument.

Donations, mostly from major corporations, had totaled less than $40 million through August 2005. But as of Nov. 1, donations have topped $65.5 million.

Of those who contributed were General Motors who provided $10 million, and clothing manufacturer Tommy Hilfiger who contributed $5 million.

"You could compare it to the assassination of JFK," Hilfiger said, remembering how King's assassination touched his Irish-Catholic family. "It was so significant in our lives as teens and young people. It was earth shattering."

Hilfiger is working with hip hop mogul Russell Simmons to help raise another $35 million for the project over the next six months.

Harry Johnson, president of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation, said he hopes to have the site completed by the spring of 2008.

Among those invited to attend the ceremonial groundbreaking are the Revs. Andrew Young, Jesse Jackson and former President Bill Clinton, who signed a resolution approved by Congress authorizing the memorial in 1996.

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