The ceremony came 25 years after officials, clergy, and residents of the Montgomery County municipality joined in 1987 to develop a park in King's honor on Oak Street. An organizing committee reconvened to add the sculpture as a way to mark the 25th anniversary of the park and Norristown's bicentennial, which is being celebrated this year.
The memorial ceremony included a three-block march reminiscent of the days when King would take to the streets on behalf of civil rights. King's son joined hands with Norristown officials, including Gary H. Simpson, president of the borough council; and Robert E. Wright Sr., chair of the 1987 and 2012 monument organizing committees. They led a crowd of about 50 marching to the George Washington Carver Community Center. The group later traveled in their cars to Presidential Caterers in East Norriton for a banquet attended by more than 300, including a dash of celebrity star power — supermodel Beverly Johnson, whose sister Sheilah is married to Wright.
At the park, the bronze bas relief of King is encased in a brick monument that is encircled on the ground by a patch of red and white gardenias. It sits at the front of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park at Oak and Arch Streets. Sculptor Jeanie Gambone, whose husband, Sal, served on the organizing committee, created the artwork in about a month. The piece was cast by Laran Bronze in Chester.
During the ceremony, Judge Horace Davenport, 93, the first African American judge in Montgomery County, stood a few feet from the sculpture.
"I'm thinking about the fact that this was once a junkyard," said Davenport, who is retired from the bench, "and now it is a memorial to Dr. King."
Outside the Carver Center, residents gathered on the porches and stoops to watch the festivities. Dorothy Rogers came down from her apartment. She called the younger King's visit a good thing for Norristown.
"He's acknowledging what Norristown did for his father, and it lets people know that Norristown is still alive," Rogers said.
The younger King later challenged the community to continue the work of his father, during an interview at Presidential Caterers. He pointed to voter identification laws, unemployment, failing schools, and "poverty, racism, and militarism" as proof that his father's dream was a long way from being achieved. The election of President Obama is a marker of progress, King said, "but there is still work to do."
In January, the younger King resigned as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the civil rights organization cofounded by his father, to start a new organization that will use technology for social change.
"My dad and his team transformed our nation without a smartphone or the Internet," King said. "Today, we have all of this technology and we can mobilize people globally to address an issue."
Twenty-five years ago, the borough's organizing committee had a more narrow goal — to give the people of Norristown a monument. The Rev. Ralph Abernathy, a lieutenant in King's movement, attended the park's ground-breaking in 1987.
Bishop Jeffrey N. Leath was on the first organizing committee. Now a presiding bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church district that includes about a half of South Africa, Leath was then pastor of Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in Norristown.
He calls the park and the new edition a reflection of King's ability to inspire diverse people to come together to build a community.
Carrie Darden, a retired teacher who was also a member of the original committee, calls it a sign that King's message is still relevant.
"It never gets old," said Darden, of Jeffersonville. "It remains with us and it rejuvenates."
Contact Kristin E. Holmes at 610-313-8211 or email@example.com.