In 2009, Bernice King was elected president but eventually declined to take office over differences with the board. Some called for the group to disband. This month, the group named King's nephew, Isaac Newton Farris Jr., as its president.
For all the troubles from concept to construction, King's contemporaries said the memorial captures his message for a new generation, and it has drawn tears for many when they saw it for the first time.
Congressman John Lewis, who met King as a teenager and is the lone surviving speaker from the 1963 March on Washington, said the statue is the best likeness he's ever seen.
"He's not looking down, he's looking straight ahead," Lewis said. "Dr. King was an emancipator, he was a liberator. He liberated not just a people. He liberated a nation. His ideas, his message of peace and love are still liberating people. I think people will come from all over the world to be inspired to go out to act, to do something."
When the Rev. Harold Carter, pastor of Baltimore's New Shiloh Baptist Church, saw King's statue for the first time, he was awestruck.
"Oh, God. You got him," Carter said, looking up to King's face, along with more than a dozen other pastors from the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia who helped raise more than $1.5 million for the project from their congregations.
"This is a king among presidents," said Joe Ratliff, pastor of Houston's Brentwood Baptist Church, who was with Carter's group. "That's what I think every time I see it."
Andrew Young, the former Atlanta mayor and U.N. ambassador who was an aide to King, has taken multiple trips to track the monument's progress.
"The first time I saw it, I broke down and cried," Young said. "It's so beautiful. It's such a fitting statement.
"You know, he was always self-conscious about being short. ... Now he's a giant of a man. Isn't that something?"
Haines reported from Atlanta.
Follow Brett Zongker at http://twitter.com/DCArtBeat
- Britain's little prince celebrates first...
- Appeals courts issue contradictory rulings on...
- Propaganda war continues in Hobby Lobby...
- Herbert among 6 governors raising concerns...
- Oops! EPA goes off topic, tweets about Kim...
- Survey: Public 'warm' to Jews, Catholics and...
- American Jews, other 'lone soldiers' serve...
- Russians fed conspiracy theories on Ukraine...
- Propaganda war continues in Hobby Lobby... 47
- Appeals courts issue contradictory... 40
- Obama will sign order barring gay,... 26
- Gov. Rick Perry sending National Guard... 23
- Tea party groups' suit against IRS... 20
- US appeals court tosses Oklahoma gay... 19
- Obama voices concern about casualties... 13
- Unaccompanied children from Central... 12