Infighting and leadership troubles also have hobbled the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which King helped found following the Montgomery bus boycott in the 1950s and played a major role in fighting segregation. Martin Luther King III was president from 1997 to 2004.
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.
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