PATRICIA ANN BANKS

Associate Professor of Sociology, Mount Holyoke College

Major MLK Memorial Donors Gave Millions to African American Museum

African American museums, PhilanthropyP. B.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial / © Patricia A. Banks

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial / © Patricia A. Banks

Half of the major donors to the MLK Memorial also gave million dollar donations to the NMAAHC.

by Patricia A. Banks

On October 16, 2011, the life and memory of Martin Luther King, Jr. was honored at the dedication ceremony for his memorial on the National Mall.  Five years later, on September 24, 2016, King’s legacy and the legacies of other pioneering African Americans were celebrated at the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). The NMAAHC and the MLK Memorial are not only linked by standing as “firsts” on the National Mall—the NMAAHC is the first African American museum on this tract of land and the MLK Memorial is the first monument honoring an African American there—but also by the philanthropy that helped to pay for them. In my research on black cultural philanthropy, I find that this museum and monument are connected through common patrons: Half of the major donors to the MLK Memorial also gave million dollar donations to the NMAAHC (1).

When the General Motors Corporation donated $750,000 to support the MLK Memorial in June 2000 they became the first major sponsor of the campaign. Over the years the automaker continued to provide support—for example, they made two separate $1,000,000 gifts in 2002. By the end of the campaign GM had given over $10,000,000 to the cause.  In 2013, two years after the MLK Memorial opened, the company made a half-million dollar donation to the NMAAHC that was part of a bigger seven-figure gift.

The NMAAHC’s major gifts campaign was kicked off by a million dollar pledge by Aflac in 2002. Over the course of fulfilling this pledge from 2003 to 2006, the company also gave a one million dollar donation to the MLK Memorial in 2005.

Inscription on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial 

Inscription on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial 

While both philanthropic campaigns overlapped, the MLK Memorial donors who supported the NMAAHC generally gave to the King campaign first.  Along with GM, other corporations such as The Walt Disney Company, Prudential, and Hyundai followed their million dollar donations to the MLK Memorial with million dollar gifts to the NMAAHC. The gifts of individual donors such as financier Robert F. Smith and filmmaker George Lucas (whose NMAAHC gift was also from his spouse investment manager Mellody Hobson) followed this pattern as well.

Not only did half of the major MLK Memorial donors give million dollar gifts to the NMAAHC, but at least close to 15% of them have also given million dollar donations to other African American museums and related organizations. In particular, there is overlap between major donors for campaigns to build the MLK Memorial, the NMAAHC, and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. Corporations such as Hyundai, Toyota, and PepsiCo gave million dollar donations to all three fundraising efforts. Another case of million dollar gifts to the MLK Memorial, the NMAAHC, and another museum focused on black culture is philanthropy by Lucas and Hobson. In 2005 Lucas' donation to the MLK Memorial was announced. In 2013 Lucas and Hobson gave a $1,000,000 gift to the NMAAHC, and the next year in 2014 the couple donated $1,000,000 to the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art.  

Identifying the donor links between fundraising campaigns at the MLK Memorial and the NMAAHC (along with other African American museums and related insitutions) offers a richer understanding of these cultural projects.  Studying high-impact patrons of black culture (e.g. donors who provide major support for the institutionalization of black culture across multiple sites) is not only important for documenting the history of black monuments and museums, but also for understanding the factors that drive black cultural philanthropy. 

National Museum of African American History & Culture / © Patricia A. Banks

National Museum of African American History & Culture / © Patricia A. Banks

Donors Who Gave Million Dollar Gifts to the MLK Memorial and the NMAAHC (2)

AARP
Aetna
Aflac
Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
BET Networks/Viacom
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation*
Coca-Cola Foundation*
Exelon Foundation
FedEx*
The Ford Motor Company Fund*
GE*
General Motors
George Lucas*
Hyundai Motor Company
JP Morgan Chase
Macfarlane Partners/Victor and Thaderine MacFarlane and Family
McDonald’s Corporation
MetLife Foundation
Michael and Susan Dell
Nationwide Foundation
PepsiCo Foundation*
Prudential Financial Inc.
Target
The Boeing Company*

The J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation
The Walt Disney Company
TOYOTA*

United Health Group
Verizon Foundation
W.K. Kellogg Foundation
Walmart
Zoelimax Foundation/Robert Frederick Smith

 (1) This is based on analysis of the million dollar donors for both building campaigns who are memorialized on donor walls at their respective sites. Documents such as 990-PF’s, annual reports, and press releases were also consulted.

(2) See footnote 1. Also, donors designated by an asterisk have not only given million dollar donations to the MLK Memorial and NMAAHC, but also to another African American museum. In cases where the donor name is followed by a forward slash, the name of the associated donor that appears on the NMAAHC donor wall is listed.