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Delayed MLK Dedication Could Draw Smaller Crowd

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Organizers are preparing for a smaller crowd at the rescheduled dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial than what was expected on the event’s original date.

The King Memorial foundation has applied for a permit to accommodate 50,000 people on Oct. 16. Organizers had expected 250,000 attendees for the dedication’s initial date of Aug. 28, but Hurricane Irene forced a delay. The new permit is not yet approved.

National Park Service spokesman Bill Line said Wednesday that organizers can change the application to accommodate more people as the date draws closer. The original application for an Aug. 28 event first called for 25,000 attendees, but that number was increased several times, he said.

There is a shorter timespan to plan the Oct. 16 ceremony. The fact that school is now in session across the country likely plays a role in the smaller crowd expected, Line said.

“Now college students from across the country who may have had more free time on their hands in August may feel more compelled that, ‘Gee, I gotta stay in school,”‘ he said.

Thousands of visitors already have seen the memorial, which includes a 30-foot stone statue of King, since it opened to the public Aug. 22. Many have been moved to tears at the sight of the first person of color to be memorialized on the National Mall.

Harold Carter, pastor of the New Shiloh Baptist Church in Baltimore, said he still plans to attend the dedication and will encourage his congregation to as well. Still, holding the event on a Sunday is a challenge for churches, he said. Carter was hoping organizers would opt for a Saturday instead.

“You can’t absolutely close down the church,” he said.

The White House has said President Barack Obama will speak at the rescheduled dedication.

For the original dedication, organizers announced that Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Jamie Foxx, George Lucas and others would serve as celebrity co-chairs of the event. Veterans from the civil rights era and King family members also were to have a role in the dedication.

A spokeswoman for the foundation said they are still working to confirm attendees for the October ceremony.

Kate Gibbs, a spokeswoman for Destination D.C., the city’s tourism bureau, said they will work with the memorial group to help promote the festivities.

“We’re so lucky because Oct. 16 is usually a beautiful time in Washington,” she said.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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