Plant Riverside District officially dedicated Martin Luther King, Jr. Park and unveiled a new commemorative bronze and granite memorial to the late Civil Rights leader on Jan. 15. The memorial bust, which was approved by the King family, is the first monument to honor Dr. King in the City of Savannah and is located in Savannah’s first public park named in his memory.
Dignitaries addressing the crowd included Dr. Naomi King, sister-in-law of Martin Luther King, Jr.; Savannah Mayor Van Johnson; Georgia State Representative and former Savannah Mayor Edna Jackson; Georgia State Representative Carl Gilliard; and Kessler Collection Chairman and CEO Richard C. Kessler. The event, which attracted several hundred attendees, included moving gospel performances by the Mass Choir of St. Paul CME Church and the Savannah State University Wesleyan Gospel Choir.
“In the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and on behalf of the entire King family, it is good to see your wonderful faces today,” said Dr. Naomi King, who received a standing ovation from the enthusiastic audience. “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with us.”
The new Martin Luther King, Jr. monument was commissioned by The Kessler Collection and created by acclaimed sculptor Franco Castelluccio, who studied anatomy at the Art Students League of New York and the School of Visual Arts in New York City. The monument includes an inscription on a stately granite base and will anchor Martin Luther King, Jr. Park at Plant Riverside District in perpetuity.
“Today has been 10 years in the making,” Richard C. Kessler, Chairman and CEO of The Kessler Collection, told the audience gathered along the riverfront. “We wanted to create a park and a memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr. at Plant Riverside District, since this is the terminus of Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. in Savannah. This event marks the culmination of 10 years of hard work. I hope this park and this monument will inspire Savannah residents and guests for many years to come.”
The construction of Martin Luther King, Jr. Park was a collaboration between The Kessler Collection, Georgia Power Foundation and the City of Savannah.
“I thank Richard Kessler for his vision and for this public-private partnership,” said Savannah Mayor Johnson, who supported Kessler’s plans for Martin Luther King, Jr, Park and for a King memorial tribute while serving as an Alderman for the City of Savannah a decade ago. “Generations to come will see this memorial tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. and will be inspired.”
“Today’s a big day,” said Kessler. “We’ve been waiting and planning this for ten years now. From the time we bought the property, until we designed it, worked through all of the committees to get their approval to build Plant Riverside. Part of that concept from the very beginning was to do this park in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
It’s exhilarating to finally get here after ten years. I was ten years younger at the time, you know, and time flies. It’s wonderful today. It was a historic event here in Savannah. I feel so so pleased with all the people that participated, all the people that came out today to enjoy and to recognize Dr. King for all he did for America and for Savannah. So, it’s great. It’s wonderful.”
When asked about what it meant personally for him to be able to provide this park and monument to the people of Savannah, Kessler added:
“In life, we do certain things and this is one of the things that I really realized today was part of my gift to Savannah and part of my legend here in Savannah. It gave me a great feeling. Really, it’s the combination of ten hard years of work and a lot of people participating. I’m pleased that we could do this today. It really caps off all of the ten years of work so I’m extremely extremely happy.
I hope and I believe the community of Savannah, first of all, recognizes what Dr. King did for Savannah and for the Nation. I think the people here are really taking a lot of pride in this and so many people have told me that. They’re so proud to be here, to be a part of it, to enjoy it, and to recognize Dr. King for what he did. So, I think there’s a lot of excitement within the people of Savannah about this project and about this event today.”
- Compiled from Staff Reports and reporting by Erica Lang