Grand Rapids native looks back on working on the MLK Monument in DC

Posted at 1:55 PM, Jan 16, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-16 20:54:59-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Since 2011, a monument has stood in downtown Washington, D.C., honoring Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy.

Building it took years.

One of the architects involved says his Grand Rapids education was a building block for success.

“What I consider very rewarding projects as a designer, working on the Martin Luther King Memorial, and I just couldn't believe they were paying me to do it,” said Marshall Purnell, an accomplished architect who is also an Ottawa Hills High School alumnus.

He attended in the late ‘60s and even played point guard on the Bengal's state championship basketball team in '68.

#25 Marshall Purnell - Image Courtesy of GRPL.jpg

But beyond his professional work on the memorial, he also has a personal connection to Dr. King.

The weekend after his assassination, Purnell was picked to recite an original poem at a remembrance parade in Grand Rapids.

A photo of that moment ran in the Sunday paper.


“And I tell people, that's the day that I grew up. That's the day I understood the power of the spoken word,” explained Purnell.

Stephanie Andrews with the Grand Rapids Public Schools Foundation told FOX 17, “I'm so grateful that, you know, especially on this amazing day of celebration and remembrance of Dr. King, that we have someone who has that close of connection and who has done something so amazing and came from our Grand Rapids Public Schools routes.”

Purnell went on to earn a master’s in architecture from the University of Michigan, which kick-started his four-decade-long career.

His projects include the Washington Convention Center and the Washington National Airport.

In 2006, Purnell became the first African American president of the American Institute of Architects.

He’s currently teaching at North Carolina State University.

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